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Israeli forces bombarded southern Gaza on Tuesday after tanks advanced to the gates of the enclave’s biggest hospital in the north where health officials say dozens of patients, including babies, have died due a lack of power and the heavy fighting.
At least 13 people were killed when Israeli forces targeted their homes in the southern city of Khan Younis, Gaza health ministry officials said.
The military has also positioned tanks outside Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s main medical centre, which Israel says sits atop tunnels housing a headquarters for Hamas fighters who are using patients as shields.
Hamas denies the Israeli claim.
The Israeli military said it was coordinating the transfer of incubators into Gaza, in a possible measure to enable the evacuation of newborn babies from the hospital.
Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra, who was inside Al Shifa hospital, said on Monday 32 patients had died in the previous three days, including three newborns.
At least 650 patients remain inside, he added.
In his first comments since the patient deaths reported at Al Shifa, U.S. President Joe Biden said hospitals must be protected.
“My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to hospitals and we remain in contact with the Israelis,” Biden told reporters on Monday.
“Also there is an effort to get this pause to deal with the release of prisoners and that’s being negotiated, as well, with the Qataris … being engaged,” he added. “So I remain somewhat hopeful but hospitals must be protected.”
On Monday, Israel’s military released video and photos of what it said were weapons the group stored in the basement of Rantissi hospital, a paediatric hospital specializing in cancer treatment.
In a statement on its Telegram channel, Hamas said the video showed “fabricated scenes that misled public opinion”, adding that it was a “failed attempt” by Israel to justify the targeting of hospitals.
Israel launched its war against Hamas after the Islamist Palestinian group’s Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel.
Around 1,200 people died in that attack and 240 were dragged to Gaza as hostages according to Israel’s tally.
The armed wing of Hamas said it was ready to free up to 70 women and children held in Gaza in exchange for a five-day truce in the war.
Gaza medical authorities say more than 11,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israeli bombardment, about 40% of them children.
Roughly two-thirds of the people in the densely populated Mediterranean strip have been made homeless by Israel’s military campaign, in which it has ordered the northern half of Gaza evacuated.
Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, posted an audio recording on Telegram saying the group was ready to release as many as 70 women and children hostages in return for a five-day ceasefire, an offer Israel is unlikely to embrace.
“We told the (Qatari) mediators that in a five-day truce, we can release 50 of them and the number could reach 70 due to the difficulty that the captives are held by different factions,” said al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida said, saying Israel had asked for 100 to be freed.
Israel, which effectively blockades Gaza, has rejected a ceasefire, arguing that Hamas would simply use it to regroup, but has permitted brief humanitarian “pauses” to allow food and other supplies to flow in and foreigners to flee.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Washington would “like to see considerably longer pauses – days, not hours – in the context of a hostage release.”
A Washington Post opinion writer on Tuesday quoted an unnamed high-ranking Israeli official as saying Israel and Hamas are close to a deal to free most of the kidnapped Israeli women and children with Israel simultaneously releasing Palestinian women and youths held in its prisons.
An agreement could be announced within days if the details are worked out.
In the occupied West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, the Palestinian health ministry and Palestinian media said.
At least three of those were killed in an Israeli drone strike, the Palestinians’ official news agency WAFA reported, citing a hospital in the western city of Tulkarm.
The Israeli army and police said their forces, sent into Tulkarm to detain suspected militants, came under fire and killed several Palestinian gunmen in the ensuing skirmish.
Israeli troops also shot dead at least two Palestinians during earlier clashes in a refugee camp in the city, WAFA reported.
The worsening violence in the West Bank comes after more than 18 months of bloodshed that has fuelled fears the West Bank could erupt into a bigger conflict and become a new front