Israel-Hamas war: Street fighting in Gaza cities - as residents warn 'there is no safe place'

Palestinian gunmen have kept up attacks on Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip's two main cities - weeks after they were overrun by troops and tanks.

Nearly four months into the war triggered by Hamas's deadly cross-border attack in Israel, there was persistent fighting in Gaza City in the north of the besieged region, and in Khan Younis to the south.

It came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his military had destroyed most of the Hamas's battalions and would "deal with" the ones that remained in southern Gaza - including in the border town of Rafah, where many Palestinians have fled.

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Mr Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv that Israeli forces had taken out 17 of Hamas's 24 main units.

He also said troops were working to destroy the militants' underground tunnels, which he said "requires more time".

And while he was working to ensure the return of the remaining hostages taken into Gaza on 7 October, Mr Netanyahu said he would not agree to a deal at any cost.

It came as Houthi fighters warned a fresh wave of strikes by the US and Britain against 36 militant targets in Yemen, aimed at deterring attacks on international shipping amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, "will not go unanswered".

The United Nations has warned Rafah is a "pressure cooker of despair", as thousands of people flee into the city from Khan Younis and other parts of southern Gaza.

'No safe place in Gaza'

The prospect of an Israeli offensive into the town has piled pressure on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians who are sheltering there after fleeing their homes elsewhere.

It is also a concern to Egypt, which has said it will not admit any influx of refugees, in what it describes as a bid to prevent any permanent dislocation.

But an Israeli official said its military would coordinate with Cairo, and seek ways of evacuating most of the displaced people northward, ahead of any operation in Rafah.

Palestinians have reported Israeli tank shelling and air strikes in Rafah, including one that killed two girls in a house.

Grieving relative Mohammed Kaloub said: "There is no safe place in Gaza, from the wire fence to the wire fence [borders from north to south], there is no safe place."

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After conducting partial pullouts from Gaza City in the past few weeks, that enabled some residents to return and pick through the rubble, Israeli forces have been mounting fresh incursions.

Mr Netanyahu described these as "mopping-up operations".

The military said it killed seven Hamas gunmen in northern Gaza and seized weaponry.

Israel's Army Radio said troops in the area were trying to penetrate two Hamas bunkers, a mission it said could take two weeks amid clashes at the sites.

"Gaza City is being wiped out," one resident said. "The [Israeli] pull-out was a ruse."

'Very aggressive raids'

In Khan Younis, overnight Israeli shelling killed three Palestinians, medics said.

Residents reported street fighting raging in western and southern areas of the city, where Israel said a soldier was killed in a Palestinian attack on Saturday.

Troops in Khan Younis seized a Hamas compound and killed several gunmen, the military said.

It comes after Israel announced last week the "dismantlement" of Hamas in Khan Younis.

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Mr Netanyahu said: "To date we brought down 17 out of 24 battalions. Most of the remaining battalions are in the south of the strip, in Rafah, and we will also deal with them.

"Second, clearing efforts are necessary after the battalions are brought down as our forces are doing determinedly in very aggressive raids in the north of the strip and its centre.

"Third, the underground must be neutralised as our forces are doing systematically in Khan Younis and are doing in all parts of the Strip and it requires more time."

He added: "The efforts to free our hostages continue. As I emphasised also in the broader cabinet, we won't agree to every deal and not at any cost."

Gaza health authorities, who do not differentiate between militants and civilians in their figures, said more than 27,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began.

They have said 70% of the dead are women and children. Thousands more are feared lost amid the ruins.

Israel claims it has killed around 10,000 gunmen in its campaign to wipe out Hamas after the deadly October rampage by the group. In the attack, 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israel.

More than 130 hostages are still in Gaza, and their possible release by Hamas is among issues under discussion in talks led by Egypt and Qatar, and backed by the US, aimed at securing a truce.

The war in Hamas-run Gaza has devastated vast swathes of the territory, displaced 85% of its population and caused a humanitarian crisis.