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Israeli warplanes strike Gaza as cease-fire expires, with warnings of attacks in the south

Man surveys destroyed homes on outskirts of Gaza City
A man stands amid the wreckage of homes that were destroyed in Israel’s relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
(Adel Hana / Associated Press)
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Israel’s war with Hamas resumed in full force Friday, as airstrikes hit houses and buildings in the Gaza Strip minutes after a weeklong truce expired. Black smoke billowed from the besieged territory, where health authorities reported dozens of Palestinians killed and Israel dropped leaflets over Gaza City and southern parts of the enclave, urging civilians to flee to avoid the fighting.

In Israel, sirens warned of incoming rockets at several communal farms near Gaza, where militants took credit for launching attacks.

The resumption of the war threatens to compound the suffering in Gaza. Some 2 million people — almost its entire population — are crammed into the territory’s south, where Israel had urged people to relocate at the start of the war and has since vowed to extend its ground assault. Unable to go into the northern part of the strip or south into neighboring Egypt, Gazans are able to move around only within an 85-square-mile area.

The renewed hostilities also heightened concerns for the approximately 140 hostages who remain in Gaza, after more than 100 were freed as part of the truce.

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Young man who was held hostage in Gaza sitting with his parents in an Israeli helicopter after his release
Ofir Engel, center, sits with his parents in an Israeli military helicopter en route to a hospital after his release from Hamas captivity Wednesday.
(Israeli Government Press Office)

Qatar, which has served as a mediator along with Egypt, said negotiators from both sides were still trying to reach an agreement on restarting the cease-fire. Israel and Hamas traded blame for ending the truce, but the Qatari Foreign Ministry singled out Israel’s role in the resumption of fighting, saying it “complicates mediation efforts and exacerbates the humanitarian catastrophe.”

The renewed fighting came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Israeli officials and urged them to do more to protect Palestinian civilians as they seek to destroy Hamas. Blinken arrived Friday at the United Nations climate talks in Dubai, where he was to meet with Arab and other leaders.

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It was not clear to what extent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would heed the appeals of the U.S., Israel’s most important ally.

Netanyahu’s office said Friday that Israel was “committed to achieving the goals of the war,” including releasing the hostages and eliminating Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

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In response to the U.S. calls, the Israeli military released a map carving up the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered, haphazardly drawn parcels and told residents to learn the number associated with their location in case of an eventual evacuation. It said the map would eventually be interactive, but it was not immediately clear how Palestinians would be updated on their designated parcel numbers and calls for evacuation.

Palestinian woman being supported by her mother after her release from prison in Israel
Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, center, is supported by her mother in the West Bank city of Ramallah early Thursday after her release from an Israeli prison.
(Nasser Nasser / Associated Press)

Only hours into the renewed offensive, the Health Ministry of Hamas-controlled Gaza said 109 people had been killed and dozens wounded. Israel said it struck more than 200 Hamas targets.

Since the war began, Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

The death toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11. The ministry says thousands more people are feared dead under the rubble.

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In its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 people captive.

About an hour before the cease-fire was to expire early Friday, Israel said it intercepted a volley of rockets fired from Gaza. Minutes after the deadline, the military announced a resumption of combat operations and soon afterward gave word of new strikes.

In the leaflets dropped in southern Gaza, Israel urged people to leave homes east of Khan Yunis, warning that the city was now a “dangerous battle zone.” Other leaflets warned residents of several neighborhoods in Gaza City in the north to move south.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled northern Gaza to Khan Yunis and other parts of the south earlier in the war in an extraordinary mass exodus that has left three-quarters of the population displaced and facing widespread shortages of food, water and other supplies.

The International Rescue Committee, an aid group operating in Gaza, warned that the return of fighting will “wipe out even the minimal relief” provided by the truce and “prove catastrophic for Palestinian civilians.”

Palestinians visit their destroyed houses in Gaza
Gazans visit their destroyed houses in Al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Gaza City, on Thursday.
(Adel Hana / Associated Press)

Strikes in Khan Yunis hit an apartment in a housing development and destroyed a large building. Residents frantically searched the building’s rubble for survivors, and several wounded children were brought to a nearby hospital.

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“We are women and children here. We have nothing,” said Fatima Nshasi, a relative of a family in the building, as women sobbed nearby. “We were going on with life as usual and hoping that the truce would be extended.”

Strikes also hit near Gaza City in the north and in the central Gaza refugee camp of Maghazi, where rescuers clawed through the rubble of a large building. A foot stuck out of the tangle of concrete and wiring.

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Israel has said it is targeting Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on Hamas, accusing the militants of operating in residential neighborhoods. Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

In Israel, white smoke trails could be seen in the skies over Sderot, on the border with northern Gaza, after Israel’s missile-protection systems activated.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah said Friday that its fighters fired on a group of Israeli soldiers along the border, the group’s first attack since the truce went into effect. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.

Israel said a number of launches from Lebanon targeted military posts near the border, and others were directed toward the town of Kiryat Shmona but were intercepted. The Israeli military responded with artillery.

Soldiers in southern Israel looking into Gaza over the border
Soldiers in southern Israel look out at Gaza from positions near the border Thursday.
(Tsafrir Abayov / Associated Press)

Netanyahu said the war resumed because Hamas had violated the terms of the truce. “It has not met its obligation to release all of the women hostages today and has launched rockets at Israeli citizens,” he said in a statement.

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Hamas blamed Israel for the end of the truce, saying in a statement that it had rejected all offers Hamas made to release more hostages and bodies of the dead. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told the Associated Press in Beirut that Hamas had rejected an Israeli list of 10 female hostages to release because they were soldiers seized at military posts.

Hamas had been expected to make bigger demands for releasing Israeli soldiers and male hostages. The fact that few women and children remain held hostage in Gaza made talks for a further extension of the cease-fire tougher.

Netanyahu has been under intense pressure from families of the hostages to bring all of them home. But his far-right governing partners have also pushed him to continue the war until Hamas is destroyed, and could abandon his coalition if he is seen as making too many concessions.

During the weeklong truce, Hamas and other militants in Gaza released more than 100 hostages, most of them Israelis, in return for 240 Palestinians freed from prisons in Israel. Virtually all of those freed were women and children.

A total of 81 Israelis, including dual nationals, were freed during the truce. An additional 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — were also released, including several men.

The 240 Palestinians released during the cease-fire were mostly teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several of the freed women were convicted by military courts of attempting to attack soldiers.

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