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Israel says its ground forces are operating across ‘all of Gaza’

<span>Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Israel continued with its intense bombing campaign across the north and south of Gaza for a third day since the end of the truce with Hamas, killing hundreds of Palestinians in a 24-hour period, according to local officials.

On Sunday night, the Israeli military also said it has expanded its ground operation to all of Gaza. “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] continues to extend its ground operation against Hamas centres in all of the Gaza Strip,” spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters in Tel Aviv. “The forces are coming face-to-face with terrorists and killing them.”

Earlier the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north was hit, with initial reports saying tens of people were killed and at least one residential block destroyed. Video footage showed people searching for bodies under the rubble.

About 300 people were reported to be sheltering in the vicinity of the latest strike, in a camp area that has been targeted repeatedly by Israel over the past month. It was not possible to verify exact casualty numbers.

Heavy bombing was also reported in the southern city of Khan Younis, increasingly the focus of Israeli attacks, while its military demanded further evacuation of civilians from areas of the city, telling them to head south to Rafah or to the west. On Sunday night there were reports of clashes between Hamas and Israeli troops a mile from the city.

Israel’s government spokesperson, Eylon Levy, said the military had struck more than 400 targets over the weekend “including extensive aerial attacks in the Khan Younis area” and had also killed Hamas militants and destroyed their infrastructure in Beit Lahiya in the north.

Gaza residents had said earlier on Sunday they feared an Israeli ground offensive on the southern areas was imminent. Tanks had cut off the road between Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, effectively dividing the Gaza Strip into three.

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Ismael al-Thawabteh, the director general of the government media office in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that more than 700 Palestinians had been killed in a 24-hour period to noon. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said later that 15,523 Palestinians had been killed since the start of the war, including 316 dead and 664 wounded “in the past hours”. Seventy per cent of the dead were women and children, it said.

An estimated 1.8 million people are internally displaced, up from a previous figure of 1.7 million, according to UN’s OCHA humanitarian agency. Images showed Palestinians trying to leave parts of Khan Younis in line with Israeli demands to evacuate.

On Saturday night, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said at a press conference that he had directed the military to attack Gaza with “increasing force”, and he repeated that his country’s aim was to eliminate Hamas as a political and military force on the bombarded strip.

“Citizens of Israel, we are in the midst of a difficult and bitter war but there is no war more just. It is a war for our home,” Netanyahu said. “ A difficult war is yet before us, but in the end, we will be victorious.”

Israel’s revised plan is expected to involved intensified bombing of evacuated areas as a prelude to a ground operation in the south, in which it is expected to try to take Khan Younis, where it believes Hamas’s leadership is based. Its military also wants to consolidate control in the north.

The Israel Defense Forces released a map on Friday dividing Gaza up into hundreds of numbered small districts. It has begun to ask civilians to evacuate from specific areas before, it says, military operations start, dropping leaflets to warn people to evacuate and sending alerts via mobile phones.

Israel has been sharply condemned by humanitarian organisations and some politicians for the piecemeal evacuation plan, which they say leaves Palestinians with fewer and fewer places to flee to, while Gaza’s infrastructure is at breaking point.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) called on Israel to respect the international rules of war and said he was accelerating his investigation into violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told the BBC that Palestinians in Gaza were being “pushed more and more towards a narrow corner of what is already a very narrow territory” by Israeli’s renewed offensive.

UNRWA, the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said Palestinians in Gaza were at risk of death from infectious diseases as sanitation comes under pressure. There was a hepatitis A outbreak at a school run by the agency, said Thomas White, its director in Gaza.

On Sunday, John Kirby, the US national security spokesperson, said the White House believed that Israel had “been receptive to our messages here of trying to minimalise civilian casualties” and praised the localised evacuation plan.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, insisted on the US television network ABC that the efforts of the military to minimise civilian casualties were unprecedented. “If we wanted to do it fast,” he said, “we’d harm a lot more civilians.”

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, speaking at a press conference in Dubai, said he believed Israel risked unleashing a decade-long war.

“What is the total destruction of Hamas, and does anyone think it’s possible? If it is, the war will last 10 years,” Macron said on Saturday. “I think we’re at a point where the Israeli authorities are going to have to define their objective and desired end state more precisely.”

Israel’s military announced it had found 800 tunnel shafts in Gaza since the start of ground operations at the end of October, and had destroyed 500 of them using explosives, blocks and other methods.

Hamas has built a sophisticated underground network over many years in order to protect its forces from Israeli bombardment and its leadership is believed to operate below ground.

The IDF said many of the tunnels were located “near or inside civilian buildings and structures, such as schools, kindergartens, mosques and playgrounds,” and that in some cases weapons were stored in the shafts.

Late on Sunday the IDF also said it had killed Hamas commander Haitham Khuwajari in an airstrike. It said Khuwajari was responsible for “numerous acts of terror” against Israel and under his command “Hamas terrorists carried out raids into Israeli territory on October 7th”.

Israeli settlers killed one man as they attacked two Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank late on Saturday, Palestinian authorities said. A 38-year-old was shot in the chest in Qarawat Bani Hassan, in the northern West Bank, the Palestinian ambulance service said.