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Israel carried out another series of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Thursday as it pushed ahead amid calls from the US to wind down the offensive – with reports suggesting a ceasefire is imminent.
The Israel Defense Forces said it struck at least three homes of Hamas commanders in Khan Younis and another in Rafah, targeting “military infrastructure,” as well as a weapons storage unit at a home in Gaza City.
Heavy airstrikes also struck the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where ramshackle homes were obliterated. The IDF said it hit two underground launchers in the camp used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.
“Never in my life have I seen such destruction. “We didn’t even have three minutes to put a slipper on our foot,” said Ibrahim Afana, 44, describing his family’s panicked flight after they were awakened by the bombing.
He said the army had called some residents to warn them about the impending strikes. There were no reports of casualties.
At least 230 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children and 39 women, with 1,710 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel said the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed.
The IDF said an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an empty bus near the frontier on Thursday, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced mounting pressure from the US but appears determined to inflict maximum damage on the terror groups in a campaign that could help save his political career.
Still, diplomatic efforts to secure a cease-fire gathered pace, with officials close to the talks saying they expect a truce to be announced in the next 24 hours.
President Joe Biden told Israel on Wednesday that he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire” – and an Egyptian intelligence official said it was likely late Thursday or early Friday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
Khalid Okasha, director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, which has close ties to the government, also said a cease-fire was likely in that timeframe, as did senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan.
A Hamas political official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, also said he believed the efforts to reach a ceasefire would succeed, Reuters reported.
“I expect a ceasefire to be reached within a day or two, and the ceasefire will be on the basis of mutual agreement,” he said.
And Israel’s Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Israeli security officials believe a ceasefire could go into effect Friday afternoon, The Times of Israel reported.
The news outlet said that was the assessment shared during meetings of top Israeli defense brass.
However, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Thursday that his country will continue what has been dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls until its objectives are met.
“We can see that there is significant international pressure. We see that Hamas sources are begging for a ceasefire,” Cohen told the Kan public broadcaster, The Times of Israel reported.
“We will finish the operation when we decide that we have obtained the objectives we want,” he added.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz met late Wednesday with senior security officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and then approved another day of military operations in Gaza, the Walla news website reported.
The UN Human Rights Council, meanwhile, said it will hold a special session on the violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between Israel and Palestinian.
The session, planned for next Thursday, will address “the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” the council said in a statement, according to The Times of Israel.
It said the session was requested by Pakistan, which is the coordinator of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Palestinian authorities.
The UN did not say how many of the Geneva-based council’s 47-member states support the call, but at least a third are needed for a special session request to be granted.
Israel has assailed the rights council over the years, saying it focuses disproportionately on the Jewish state while ignoring abuses by autocratic regimes and governments.
With Post wires
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