10 relatives of Hamas chief killed in Israeli strike, say Gaza officials

Author:AFP 2024-06-25 21:50 5

Israeli forces on Tuesday bombarded besieged Gaza where Palestinian officials said one strike killed 10 family members of Hamas' Qatar-based political chief Ismail Haniyeh, including his sister.

A view shows the site of an Israeli strike on a house where Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's sister and other relatives were killed, amid Israel-Hamas conflict, at the Shati (Beach) refugee camp, in Gaza City(REUTERS)

The reported strike came three days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "intense phase" of the war raging since October 7 was winding down, and as his defence minister was visiting Washington.

Israel's military did not immediately confirm the early-morning strike, which the civil defence agency in Hamas-ruled Gaza said hit the family's house in the northern Al-Shati refugee camp, leaving some bodies trapped under the rubble.

The military said it forces struck Hamas operatives "inside school compounds" in Al-Shati and another area of northern Gaza overnight, accusing them of involvement in the October 7 attack that sparked the war and "in holding hostages captives".

Civil defence agency spokesman Mahmud Basal told AFP: "There are 10 martyrs and several wounded as a result of the strike, including Zahr Haniyeh, sister of Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh."

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Haniyeh lost three sons and four grandchildren in a strike in April, when the Israeli military accused them of "terrorist activities". The Hamas chief at the time said about 60 of his relatives had died in the Gaza war.

Netanyahu said in a TV interview Sunday that the heaviest fighting in the more than eight-months-old Gaza war was nearing an end, but that the war would continue in order to bring home the remaining hostages and destroy Hamas.

The premier also said some forces would be redeployed for "defensive purposes" to the northern border with Lebanon, where fears of a major war against Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have grown after months of cross-border fire.

Top US officials meeting Israel's defence minister, Yoav Gallant, in Washington warned their ally to avoid further escalation in Lebanon and also discussed ongoing efforts toward a deal to free the remaining captives in Gaza.

- 'Stand together' -

Months of talks toward a Gaza truce and hostage release deal have once more stalled, chiefly over Hamas's demands for a permanent end to the fighting and a full Israeli troop withdrawal, which Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Gallant discussed the ongoing push for a deal that "secures the release of all hostages and alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people," said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Blinken also "underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes" in evacuated border areas, Miller said.

Netanyahu -- who has had tense relations with US President Joe Biden amid the devastating war -- in recent days has annoyed the administration by accusing Washington of cutting back arms and ammunition deliveries.

The United States has strongly denied the claim, stressing it had only withheld a single shipment of heavy bombs, although Israeli media reports suggested it has also ended emergency fast-track weapons shipments.

Gallant took a more conciliatory tack.

"The eyes of both our enemies and our friends are on the relationship between the US and Israel," he told Blinken, according to Gallant's office.

"We must resolve the differences between us quickly and stand together."

Gallant also met CIA chief Bill Burns, the US pointman in talks to free the captives, and emphasised "Israel's primary commitment to return the hostages, with no exception".

- 'We are trapped' -

The bloodiest ever Gaza war started with Hamas' October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 42 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,626 people, also mostly civilians, Gaza's health ministry said Monday.

Since then, civil defence crews have recovered 13 more bodies from three locations hit by Israeli air strikes, said agency spokesman Basal before the latest attack on the Haniyah family home.

An AFP correspondent witnessed a strike that killed five people, including two children, near Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, leaving the corpses scattered in a pool of blood.

Global outrage has grown over the surging death toll, and Gallant was greeted with shouts of "war criminal" by several dozen protesters as he left the meeting with Blinken.

Israel has also imposed a siege on Gaza's 2.4 million people, depriving them of most food and other essentials, the suffering alleviated only by sporadic aid shipments.

"There is no more water or food. We are totally trapped," said Haitham Abu Taha, among the very few Palestinians who have returned to Rafah after heavy battles.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, warned of "the breakdown of civil order" in Gaza as well as "catastrophic levels of hunger".

UNRWA has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of involvement in the October 7 attack that sparked the war.

Families of those killed in the Hamas attack sued UNRWA on Monday, alleging it facilitated the unprecedented bloodshed, according to court documents.

An independent review led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna found some "neutrality-related issues" but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its main allegations.

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Title:10 relatives of Hamas chief killed in Israeli strike, say Gaza officials