Hamas fires on Israeli forces pressing ground assault

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Hamas said its militants in Gaza fired anti-tank missiles at Israel’s invading forces early on Tuesday and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls for a halt to fighting that has deepened the Palestinian enclave’s humanitarian crisis.

Israel has expanded ground operations in Gaza as it seeks to punish the Strip’s ruling Hamas movement for a deadly gun rampage three weeks ago that Israeli authorities say killed over 1 400 people.

Witnesses said Israeli forces targetted Gaza’s main north-south road on Monday and attacked Gaza City from two directions.

Israel said its troops freed a soldier from Hamas captivity, one of 239 hostages who Israel says were captured on October 7.

The al-Qassam brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said militants clashed early today with Israeli forces “invading the southern Gaza axis, (including) with machine guns, and targetted four vehicles with al-Yassin 105 missiles,” referring to locally produced anti-tank missiles.

The militants also targetted two Israeli tanks and bulldozers in northwest Gaza with the missiles, al-Qassam said.

Reuters was not able to confirm the reports of fighting. Israel’s military had no immediate comment.

Gaza health authorities say that 8 306 people, including 3 457 minors, have been killed in Israeli attacks since October 7. UN officials say more than 1.4 million of Gaza’s civilian population of about 2.3 million have been made homeless.

The mounting death toll has drawn calls from the US, Israel’s top ally, other countries and the UN for a pause in fighting to allow more humanitarian aid to reach the enclave.

Netanyahu said late yesterday that Israel would not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas in Gaza and would press ahead with its plans to wipe out the group.

“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

Military specialists said Israeli forces are moving slowly in their ground offensive in part to keep open the possibility that Hamas militants will negotiate the release of the hostages.

The relative caution with which Israeli troops have taken and secured slices of territory in the first days of sustained ground operations in Gaza stands in contrast to the past three weeks of unrelenting air strikes on the Mediterranean enclave, as well as to Israel’s previous land offensives there.

VIDEO: United Nations Security Council meeting on Israel-Hamas conflict: