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GAZA: The Israeli military said on Friday it was carrying out raids backed by airstrikes in northern Gaza, killing “dozens” of militants in an area where it had declared the dismantling of the Hamas command structure months ago.
The operation in Shujaiya, on the outskirts of Gaza City, caused many casualties, witnesses and medics said on Thursday as it began.
The renewed fighting in northern Gaza followed comments on Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said the “intense phase” of the war was ending after nearly nine months.
Experts say they foresee a potentially protracted next phase.
Omer Dostri, a military expert at the Institute for Strategy and Security in Jerusalem, said he expected the army to reduce its ground presence and increasingly use drones and fighter jets “to further dismantle Hamas.”
In the Shujaiya area on Friday, an AFP correspondent witnessed an airstrike and saw smoke rising. Artillery fire exploded.
In a statement, the Israeli military said that on Thursday night troops “began to carry out targeted raids” in the Shujaiya area as part of an operation that began earlier in the day.
Intelligence services indicated “the presence of terrorists and terrorist infrastructure in the Shujaiya area,” the military said, in the first details of the operation.
As the troops moved in, warplanes struck dozens of Hamas targets, it said, following other “significant” strikes that killed “dozens” of militants in the north.
The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, said on Friday it was fighting in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya and had targeted Israeli troops with mortar shells.
Meanwhile, Gaza’s civil defense agency said Israeli forces targeted the agency’s headquarters while advancing in western Rafah.
Several agency employees were injured, while two fire trucks, an ambulance and an excavator used to rescue people from the rubble were damaged, one of the agency’s officials, Mohammad Al-Mughair, told AFP.

On Thursday, an army spokesman told Gaza residents and displaced people in a message on social media to leave “for your safety”.
They were told to head south to a declared “humanitarian zone” about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.
An AFP photographer saw many Palestinians leaving on foot, carrying their belongings through the rubble-strewn streets.
Hamas said Israeli forces were “beginning a ground incursion”, reporting “several” deaths as “thousands flee under relentless shelling”.
The war began with the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, which killed 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also captured hostages, of whom 116 remain in Gaza, although the military says 42 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,765 people, also mostly civilians, according to figures from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
On Friday, the army announced the death of another soldier, aged 19, during fighting in southern Gaza. This brings to 314 the death toll since ground operations in the territory began.
Elsewhere in the coastal strip, paramedics reported three people killed in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza on Friday.
AFP images showed that the municipal building was destroyed.
Colleagues prayed over the bodies of four civil defense volunteers killed in the shelling of the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, other AFP images showed.
Orange work vests sat over their white-clad bodies.
Witnesses reported artillery fire in Nuseirat on Friday.
The fighting in Gaza comes alongside growing fears of a wider regional conflagration involving Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. The two sides have engaged in almost daily exchanges of fire since the Gaza war began.
Such exchanges have increased this month.
US officials have expressed hope that a cease-fire in Gaza could also lead to a reduction in hostilities on Israel’s northern border, but months of internal mediation, which also involves Egypt and Qatar, have failed to an agreement.
On Thursday, Hezbollah said it had fired “dozens” of rockets at a military base in northern Israel in retaliation for Israeli attacks on Lebanon.
Hezbollah said four of its fighters were killed. The Israeli military said the airstrikes killed three Hezbollah operatives.
In Gaza, most of the population has been uprooted and much of the territory’s infrastructure has been destroyed, leaving residents struggling to survive.
A UN-backed assessment this week said nearly half a million people in Gaza still face “catastrophic” hunger.
An Israeli government spokesman dismissed the report, in part because it was “based on data from Hamas’ own health facilities.”
But the Integrated Food Safety Classification, on its website, says it was created “precisely to replace potential political interference with technical neutrality” and that its parameters are based on international standards.
Netanyahu’s announcement that the intense fighting is ending comes with his right-wing coalition under pressure.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside his residence in Jerusalem again on Thursday to demand a deal to release the hostages, an AFP reporter said.
In the Tel Aviv area, mounted police dispersed ultra-Orthodox men protesting the Supreme Court’s decision that they must be conscripted into military service.

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