Israeli defence minister heads to US for 'critical' talks on Gaza war

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant headed to Washington on Sunday for talks on the Gaza war raging since October 7 and surging cross-border tensions with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

The visit, which Gallant said would include meetings that are "critical to this war", comes after a series of public statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning military aid which have added strains to ties with the White House.

Netanyahu has accused Israel's close ally and biggest military supplier the United States of freezing some arms and ammunition deliveries. On Sunday he told his cabinet they had dropped off sharply "about four months ago".

With the exception of one shipment of heavy 2,000-pound bombs that Washington acknowledged was put under review, US officials have strongly rejected the claims made by Netanyahu about the arms.

"I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future," said Netanyahu, who has faced growing pressure from Israeli demonstrators demanding a deal to free hostages still held in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden has been at odds with Israel's veteran right-wing leader over the surging civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip during more than eight months of war triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

As he prepared to depart for Washington, Gallant said: "Our ties with the United States are more important than ever".

Israeli forces again bombed Gaza on Sunday, with medics and the civil defence agency in the Hamas-ruled territory reporting deadly strikes on Gaza City, in the north.

Tensions have also flared on Israel's northern border with Lebanon whose Iran-backed Hezbollah movement has traded daily cross-border fire with the army, heightening fears of all-out war particularly over the past two weeks.

Gallant said he would "discuss developments in Gaza and Lebanon", adding that "we are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon and in additional areas".

- Deadly strikes -

In Gaza, Israeli forces kept striking targets and battling Hamas, the Islamist militant group Israel has vowed to destroy over its October 7 attack, in a war that has devastated much of the coastal territory.

United States officials have raised doubts over Israel's goal of completely eliminating Hamas.

In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli hospital told AFP that at least five people were killed in an Israeli air strike on a facility of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

The Israeli military said its jets struck militants who "operated from within buildings that previously served as an UNRWA headquarters"

There was no immediate comment from UNRWA, whose facilities have come under attack before.

Since the war began, several UNRWA buildings have been turned into shelters for displaced Palestinians.

AFPTV footage from the area showed Palestinian rescuers and civilians pulling victims from under the rubble.

An early morning air raid on a family home elsewhere in Gaza City killed at least seven people, the civil defence agency said.

A military statement said Israeli warplanes had struck "dozens of terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip" over the previous 24 hours.

As the Gaza war has raged on, Israeli protesters have taken to the streets week after week demanding greater efforts to bring home the remaining hostages.

At a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday -- billed by organisers as the largest yet -- many demonstrators voiced anger and frustration with Netanyahu and his far-right allies, accusing them of prolonging the war and putting the country's security and hostages at risk.

In an address to the crowd, Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel's domestic security agency Shin Bet, condemned Netanyahu as Israel's "worst prime minister".

- War 'must stop' -

The October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,598 people, also mostly civilians, Gaza's health ministry said.

"This war must stop," said Umm Siraj al-Balawi, surviving in a makeshift shelter amid a field of rubble, with strung-up sheets protecting her young children from the blazing sun.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah said it had targeted military positions in northern Israel with attack drones, after an Israeli strike in eastern Lebanon killed the commander of another armed group, Jamaa Islamiya.

Israel's military said one of its soldiers "was severely wounded" as a result of a drone strike.

Last Tuesday the military announced that a plan for a Lebanon offensive had been "approved and validated".

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of a full-scale war.