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Eight Israeli soldiers killed, PM doubles down

Hamas militants say they ambushed an Israeli armoured personnel carrier in Rafah.

Hamas militants say they ambushed an Israeli armoured personnel carrier in Rafah. Photo: AAP

Eight Israeli soldiers have been killed in the southern Gaza Strip, the military says, as forces continued to push in and around the southern city of Rafah and strikes hit several areas of Gaza, killing at least 19 Palestinians.

Earlier, the armed wing of Hamas said fighters had ambushed an armoured personnel carrier, killing and wounding a number of Israeli soldiers, in the Tel al-Sultan area in the west of Rafah, where Israeli forces have been advancing for weeks.

Israeli tanks advanced in Tel al-Sultan and shells landed in the coastal area, where thousands of Palestinians, many of them displaced several times already, have sought refuge.

Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant more than eight months since the start of the war in October.

In Israeli air strikes on two houses in Gaza City suburbs, residents said at least 15 people were killed.

Four others were killed in separate attacks in the south, medics said.

The Israeli military on Saturday said its forces in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, close to the border with Egypt, had captured large quantities of weapons both above ground and concealed in the extensive tunnel network built by Hamas.

It said militants had on Friday fired five rockets from the humanitarian area in central Gaza.

It said two had fallen in open areas in Israel and three fell short in Gaza.

“This is a further example of the cynical exploitation of humanitarian infrastructure and the civilian population as human shields by terror organisations in the Gaza Strip for their terrorist attacks,” the military said.

Ceasefire distant

The deaths of the soldiers may complicate the political situation facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a week after centrist former general Benny Gantz quit the government, accusing Netanyahu of having no proper strategy for Gaza.

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday in the latest of the now weekly protests by families and supporters of hostages still held by Hamas, demanding an agreement to bring them home.

In a video statement issued late on Saturday, Netanyahu said there was no alternative but to stick to the goals of the war to defeat Hamas and bring the hostages back.

Although surveys show solid support among the Israeli public for continuing the war against Hamas, the protests underscore the divisions in Israeli society that have reopened following a period of unity at the start of the war.

The Islamic Jihad armed wing al-Quds Brigades said on Saturday Israel could only regain its hostages in Gaza if it ended the war and pulled out forces from the enclave.

A spokesman for al-Quds Brigades made the remarks in a video posted on Telegram.

Islamic Jihad is a smaller ally of Hamas, which led a rampage in southern Israel on October 7 in which 1200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza, although at least 40 have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.

Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

At least 37,296 Palestinians, at least 30 of them in the past 24 hours, have been killed in Israel’s military campaign to eliminate Hamas, according to the Gaza health ministry.

—AAP

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