Middle-East

Gaza airstrike hit as displaced gathered for soccer match, witnesses say

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Israeli forces continued to press their offensive in north and central Gaza on Wednesday, and deepened their incursion into two Gaza City districts, carrying out house-to-house searches.

An Israeli missile slammed into a tent encampment in southern Gaza on Tuesday just as displaced people had gathered there to watch a football match at a school, eyewitnesses said on Wednesday.

At least 29 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the strike, according to Palestinian officials, which took place as spectators crowded the school grounds in Abassan east of Khan Younis and hawkers sold smoothies and biscuits.

"They were watching a football match. There were injuries and martyrs. I witnessed this...people thrown around and body parts scattered, blood," a young woman, Ghazzal Nasser, told Reuters in Abassan.

"Everything was normal. People were playing, others were buying and selling (food and drinks). There was no sound of planes or anything," she said.

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with a "precise munition" a Hamas fighter who took part in the Oct. 7 attack.

The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it knew that a football match was going on when the strike was ordered.

At the nearby Nasser Hospital, dozens of Palestinians bid farewell to loved ones before funerals and burials.

"The schools were overcrowded with people and the street was full too, suddenly a missile hit and destroyed the whole place," said Asmaa Qudeih, who lost some relatives in the attack.

"Bodies flew in the wind, body parts flew, I don't know how to describe it," she said.

Israeli forces continued to press their offensive in north and central Gaza on Wednesday, and deepened their incursion into two Gaza City districts, carrying out house-to-house searches.

Hamas said the renewed Israeli campaign threatened to derail efforts to secure a ceasefire in the nine-month-old war, with talks to resume in Doha on Wednesday.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk he was committed to securing a Gaza ceasefire deal provided Israel's red lines were respected, his office said.

Hamas has accepted a key part of a US plan aimed at ending the nine-month-old war, dropping a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement.

Netanyahu has insisted the deal must not prevent Israel from resuming fighting until its war objectives are met.

Evacuation

Leaflets were dropped on Gaza City on Wednesday, this time with a map marking "safe routes" for the evacuation of the whole city, not just certain districts. The Israeli leaflets urge civilians to head south to the central Gaza Strip.

The city, home to more than a quarter of Gaza's population before the war, was destroyed by an Israeli assault in the first weeks of fighting last year, but hundreds of thousands of Gazans are believed to have returned to the ruins in recent months.

Israeli forces patrolled the main road to the coast, snipers commandeered rooftops of some high-rise buildings still standing, and tanks were stationed inside the headquarters of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, residents said.

The Israeli military said in a statement its forces were continuing operations in Gaza City against Hamas, who they said had operated from inside the UNRWA facilities, using them as a base for attacks.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received dozens of desperate calls from residents in Gaza City trapped in their homes but teams were unable to reach them because of the intensity of the bombing.

"The information coming from Gaza City shows residents are living through tragic conditions. (Israeli) occupation forces continue to hit residential districts, and displace people from their homes and refuge shelters," it said in a statement.

More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, health officials in the Hamas-run territory said.

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