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New Israeli offensive in central Gaza ‘above and below ground’

The Israeli military said it has “operational control” over two areas in central Gaza as it carries out ground raids and airstrikes in a possible extension of the months-long war against Hamas.

The army said it was fighting “above and below ground” in the eastern parts of Deir al-Balah and the built-up Bureij refugee camp.

It said the operation began with airstrikes on militant infrastructure, after which troops began a “targeted daylight operation” in both areas.

Israel has routinely launched airstrikes in all parts of Gaza since the war began and has carried out large-scale ground operations in the territory’s two largest cities, Gaza City and Khan Younis, leaving much of it in ruins.

The army waged a weeks-long offensive in Bureij and several other nearby refugee camps in central Gaza earlier this year.

Troops withdrew from the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza last week after weeks of fighting caused widespread destruction.

Palestinian woman mourns relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip outside a hospital in Deir al Balah.

First responders have recovered the bodies of 360 people, mostly women and children, killed in the fighting.

Israel sent troops to Rafah last month in what it said was a limited incursion, but those forces are now operating in central parts of Gaza’s southernmost city.

Since the start of the operation, more than 1 million people have fled Rafah, many of them towards central Gaza.

And in Jerusalem, thousands of mostly ultra-nationalist Israelis marched through a sensitive Palestinian part of the city, some fueling wartime tensions by chanting “Death to the Arabs.”

Israelis wave national flags during a march to mark Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday honoring the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, in front of the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.

Thousands of Israelis, including many ultranationalists, took part in the ‘Jerusalem Day’ march. The annual event marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem, including the Old City and holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, during the 1967 Middle East war.

The demonstrators also chanted anti-Islamic slogans outside the Damascus Gate, a central gathering place for Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

The march has fueled violence in the past, including helping to spark an 11-day war with Hamas three years ago.

Palestinians view the annual march as provocative.

As buses bringing young Jewish men for the march crowded around the ancient walls of the Old City, Palestinian shopkeepers closed their doors in the Muslim Quarter in preparation.

Israelis wave national flags during a march to mark Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday honoring the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, in front of the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.

Police emphasized that the march would not enter the vast grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

The hilltop on which it stands is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because this was where the Jewish temples stood in ancient times.

The eight-month war in Gaza has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.

The US Biden administration has launched an intense effort to convince Hamas and Israel to accept a new ceasefire and a proposal for the release of hostages, raising hopes for an end to the war.

CIA Director Bill Burns met in Doha with Qatar’s prime minister about the ongoing negotiations, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry, which makes no distinction between fighters and civilians.

Israel launched the war after Hamas’s attack on October 7, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and kidnapping about 250.

About 80 hostages captured on October 7 are believed to still be alive in Gaza, along with the remains of 43 others.