Airstrikes on two homes kill more than 90 Palestinians, Gaza officials say

More than 90 Palestinians, including dozens from an extended family, have been killed in Israeli air strikes on two homes in Gaza, rescuers and hospital officials in the Hamas-controlled territory said.

The strikes flattened two homes on Friday, one in Gaza City and the other in the urban refugee camp of Nuseirat in the centre of Gaza.

The Gaza City strike killed 76 people from the al-Mughrabi family, making it one of the deadliest of the war, said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defence department.

He gave the names of 16 heads of households within the family, and said the dead included women and children.

Among those killed were Issam al-Mughrabi, a veteran employee of the UN Development Programme, his wife and their five children.

“The loss of Issam and his family has deeply affected us all. The UN and civilians in Gaza are not a target,” said Achim Steiner, the head of the agency. “This war must end.”

Palestinians look at the residential building of the Khalifa family destroyed in an Israeli strike in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip (Photo: AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Meanwhile, Hamas issued a statement on Saturday saying it has lost contact with the group responsible for five Israeli hostages being held captive in Gaza due to Israeli bombardment.

The group believes the hostages were killed during an Israeli raid, Abu Ubaida, the spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades was quoted as saying.

Israel has continued to battle Hamas, whose armed wing Al Qassam Brigades said it had destroyed five Israeli tanks in the area, killing and injuring their crews, after reusing two undetonated missiles launched earlier by Israel.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson said on Friday that its forces had achieved almost complete operational control of northern Gaza and were preparing to expand the ground offensive to other areas in the Strip, with a focus on the south.

It came a day after the UN chief Antonio Guterres warned again that nowhere is safe in Gaza and that Israel’s offensive is creating “massive obstacles” to the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Later on Friday, a strike pulverised the Nuseirat home of Mohammed Khalifa, a local TV journalist, killing him and at least 14 others, according to officials at nearby Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital where the bodies were taken.

Mourners held funeral prayers on Saturday in the hospital’s courtyard while rescue teams continued to search for survivors.

Also on Saturday, the Israeli military said troops had arrested hundreds of alleged militants in Gaza over the past week and transferred more than 200 to Israel for further interrogation, providing rare details on a controversial policy of mass round-ups of Palestinian men.

The army said more than 700 people with alleged ties to the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad had been sent to Israeli jails.

Israel declared war after Hamas gunmen stormed across the border on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s war to destroy Hamas and more than 53,000 have been wounded, according to health officials in Gaza.

Despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire, Israel has vowed to keep up the fight until Hamas is destroyed and removed from power in Gaza and all the hostages are freed.

Israel blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, citing the militants’ use of crowded residential areas and tunnels.

The offensive has displaced nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and levelled wide areas of the tiny coastal enclave. More than half a million people in Gaza – a quarter of the population – are starving, according to a report this week from the UN and other agencies.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late on Friday that forces were widening the ground offensive “to additional areas of the strip, with a focus on the south”.

He said operations were also continuing in the northern half of Gaza, the initial focus of Israel’s ground offensive, and that it carried out air strikes against Hamas fighters in several locations of Gaza City.

The army statement on detentions followed earlier Palestinian reports of large-scale round-ups of teenage boys and men from homes, shelters and hospitals in northern Gaza where ground troops have established firmer control.

Some of the released detainees have said they were stripped to their underwear, beaten and held for days with minimal water.

The military has denied abuse allegations and said those without links to militants were quickly released.

Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas terrorists, including about 2,000 in the past three weeks, but has not presented evidence. It says 146 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive.

On Friday, the UN Security Council adopted a watered-down resolution that called for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza, but not for a ceasefire.

It is not clear how and when aid deliveries will accelerate. Currently, trucks enter through two crossings – Rafah on the border with Egypt and Kerem Shalom on the border with Israel. Both crossings were closed on Saturday by mutual agreement between Israel, Egypt and the UN, Israeli officials said.

Before the Security Council vote, the US negotiated the removal of language that would have given the UN authority to inspect aid going into Gaza, something Israel says must continue to ensure material does not reach Hamas.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Friday that Israel’s offensive is creating “massive obstacles” to the distribution of humanitarian aid, and that it is a mistake to measure the effectiveness of the operation by the number of trucks.

He reiterated his longstanding call for a humanitarian ceasefire, expressing hope that the resolution may help this happen but adding that “much more is needed immediately” to end the “nightmare” for the people in Gaza.