Israel’s Push in Central Gaza Targets Hamas Fighters

The Israeli military pushed ahead with its offensive in central Gaza on Friday, saying it had killed dozens of militants, including some who had holed up in the premises of a former United Nations school that had been converted into a shelter in the area.

The military said it targeted Hamas fighters at a school compound in Shati, a coastal neighborhood northwest of Gaza City’s downtown. The number of casualties was unclear.

“Hamas systematically, intentionally and strategically places its infrastructure and operates from within civilian areas in full violation of international law and while putting the lives of Gazan civilians at risk,” the Israeli military said in a statement after the strike.

Friday’s attack occurred a day after a strike on a similar school complex nearby in Nuseirat where displaced civilians had taken shelter. The Gazan health authorities said women and children were among those killed in that strike.

Israel on Friday offered a full-throated defense of Thursday’s raid, saying that its forces had targeted 20 to 30 militants who it said were using three classrooms in the former school as a base.

The attacks on the U.N. complexes in central Gaza reflect Israel’s laborious efforts to repacify areas where officials had formerly said Hamas had largely been suppressed.

The number and identities of those killed in Nuseirat on Thursday remained disputed. Varying figures have been provided by the Gaza ministry of health and officials at a hospital where victims were taken. And an assessment by the Israeli military offered a third account.

Palestinian officials have given death tolls ranging from 41 to 46. Yasser Khattab, an official overseeing the morgue at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir al Balah, said 18 of the victims were children and nine were women.

The Israeli military on Friday released the names of eight more Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters that it said were killed in the strike, adding to a list released on Thursday and bringing the total number of alleged militants to 17 so far.

Later on Thursday, an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat City Hall killed at least five people, including the mayor, Iyad al-Maghari. Video shared by the Palestinian news media showed numerous bodies on the floor of a morgue, including some who appeared to be children.

The death tolls in all of these attacks could not be independently confirmed.

With 36,000 people killed in Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas, according to the Gazan health officials, the United Nations announced on Friday that it was putting Israel on a global list of offenders that commit violations harmful to children. Hamas was also on the list.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel condemned the report, saying in a statement that the country’s military “is the most moral army in the world, and no delusional decision by the U.N. will change that.”

Israeli troops also continued their offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Friday, where the military has seized much of the area bordering Egypt. The military said it was carrying out “intelligence-based, targeted operations,” without providing further details.

The fighting came as American officials kept pressing for a cease-fire. The State Department announced on Friday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken would travel next week to Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Qatar to push for a deal.

Since the fighting began, propelled by the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, Hamas and other Palestinian militants in Gaza have used an extensive warren of underground tunnels to fight a guerrilla war, ambushing Israeli forces with booby traps. Israeli troops have returned to previously embattled areas like Bureij in central Gaza in an effort to crack down on what the military says is a renewed Hamas insurgency there.

“We’re seeing that Hamas still exists, and they still have capabilities above and beneath ground,” Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters on Thursday, describing continuing attacks by “smaller cells” of militants using rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and booby traps.

On Thursday, Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel just a few hundred feet from Israeli territory in an attempt to attack inside the country, the Israeli military said. Israeli drone and tank fire aimed at the militants and killed three of them, according to the military. An Israeli soldier was also killed in the firefight.

Since Israel’s military offensive in Rafah, the number of trucks carrying desperately needed international aid has dropped — despite an uptick in commercial trucks — amid a humanitarian crisis that aid workers say remains dire.

The U.S. military said Friday that it had reattached to the Gaza shore a pier designed to funnel humanitarian shipments into the enclave. The $230 million floating pier, which American officials have lauded as part of a solution to getting more aid into the hunger-stricken territory, broke apart in stormy seas more than a week ago.

Farnaz Fassihi and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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