Israel bombs northern Gaza; Palestinians say 166 killed in 24 hours

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 Israel bombed areas of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, with fighting throughout Sunday morning, residents and Palestinian media said, as Gaza health authorities and the Israeli military both announced mounting death tolls.

Israel says it has achieved almost complete operational control over northern Gaza and is preparing to expand a ground offensive against Hamas militants to other areas. But Jabalia residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks, which they said had moved further into the town on Saturday.

A Gaza health ministry spokesperson said on Sunday 166 Palestinians had been killed in the past 24 hours, taking the total Palestinian death toll to 20,424. Tens of thousands have been wounded, with many bodies believed trapped under rubble.

Almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.

The Israeli military said eight soldiers had been killed, bringing to 154 its published combat losses since it began its ground incursion in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage into Israel, in which militants killed 1 200 and took 240 hostages.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussed the Israeli campaign.

Biden “emphasized the critical need to protect the civilian population including those supporting the humanitarian aid operation, and the importance of allowing civilians to move safely away from areas of ongoing fighting”, the White House said in a statement.

“The leaders discussed the importance of securing the release of all remaining hostages,” the White House said.

Israel’s main ally has maintained its support while expressing concern over the casualty toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. U.S. officials have said they expected Israel to shift soon to a lower-intensity phase.

Netanyahu, speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, dismissed reports that the United States had convinced Israel not to expand its military campaign.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Netanyahu was persuaded by Biden not to attack the militant Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon out of concerns it would launch an attack on Israel.

“Israel is a sovereign state,” Netanyahu said. “Our decisions in the war are based on our operational considerations, and I will not elaborate on that.”

The U.N. Security Council averted a threatened U.S. veto on Friday, after days of wrangling, by removing from a draft resolution a call for an immediate end to the war and diluting Israeli control over aid deliveries. The U.S. and Israel oppose a ceasefire, contending it would let Iran-backed Hamas regroup and rearm.

Washington abstained from the final statement, which urges steps to allow “safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access” to Gaza and “conditions for a sustainable cessation” of fighting.

Israel-Hamas war | Trent Murray gives an update: