Israeli forces backed by warplanes and drones have carried out a second ground raid in Gaza as aid trickles into the besieged territory amid warnings of a deepening “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The operation comes as the Israeli military prepares for a widely expected invasion of the Hamas-governed enclave.
Meanwhile, US jets struck targets in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard after a string of attacks on America troops by Tehran-backed fighters, heightening the regional tensions fuelled by the three-week-old war.
Israel-Gaza latest: US fighter jets strike Iran-linked locations in Syria
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has said they are “separate and distinct” from the Israel-Hamas conflict.
According to Gaza authorities, more than 7,300 Palestinians have now been killed in waves of airstrikes by Israel in retaliation for a cross-border massacre carried out by Hamas in the south of the country on 7 October.
Officials said the dead include more than 3,000 children and more than 1,500 women.
More than 1,400 people in Israel, mostly civilians, were killed during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government.
It also said Hamas is holding at least 224 captives inside Gaza, including women, children and the elderly.
The overall number of deaths far outstrips the combined total of all four previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas, estimated at around 4,000.
More than one million people in Gaza have fled their homes, with many following Israeli orders to evacuate to the south.
The humanitarian crisis sparked by the war and the Israeli siege has sparked protests across the region, and more demonstrations are expected later on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.
The Israeli military said ground forces raided inside Gaza, striking dozens of militant targets over the past 24 hours.
It said aircraft and artillery bombed targets in Shijaiyah, an area on the outskirts of Gaza City that was the scene of a bloody battle in the 2014 Gaza war.
The military also said the soldiers left the territory without suffering any casualties.
It had reported an earlier raid into northern Gaza on Thursday, saying ground forces battled militants and struck anti-tank missile positions.
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Israel said it only strikes militant targets and accuses Hamas of operating among civilians in an attempt to protect insurgents.
According to the military, an airstrike killed one of two masterminds of the 7 October attack, Shadi Barud, the head of Hamas’ intelligence unit.
Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel since the war began.
Hamas said Israel’s bombardment had so far killed about 50 of the hostages.
Israel has denied previous, similar claims.
‘Crucial humanitarian assistance’
It comes as six International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) trucks arrived in Gaza carrying medical and water purification supplies.
The ICRC’s Fabrizio Carboni said: “This crucial humanitarian assistance is a small dose of relief, but it´s not enough.
“Our surgical team and medical supplies will help relieve the extreme pressure on Gaza’s doctors and nurses.
“But safe, sustained humanitarian access is urgently needed.
“This humanitarian catastrophe is deepening by the hour.”
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned remaining public services in Gaza are collapsing fast with fuel and food shortages.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the international community “seems to have turned its back on Gaza.”
Gaza’s sole power station shut down for lack of fuel days after the start of the war, and Israel has barred all fuel deliveries, saying it believes Hamas would steal them for military purposes.