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Israeli military launches limited raids into Gaza amid rising tensions

Hamas claims 222 hostages in October 7th attack

Source: RTE

Israel's military has said that ground forces mounted limited raids into Gaza overnight to fight Palestinian gunmen and that air strikes were being focussed on sites where Hamas was assembling to attack any wider Israeli invasion.

In a televised briefing, chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said 222 people had now been confirmed as taken hostage during the 7October attack by Hamas.

Hamas said its fighters engaged with an Israeli force in Gaza and returned to their base after destroying some Israeli military equipment.

Its armed wing, Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said the engagement by what it described as an armoured force took place east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has convened a meeting of top generals and his cabinet to assess the escalating conflict.

Overnight Israeli airstrikes concentrated on central and northern Gaza, Palestinian media reported. A strike on a house near the Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, killed several people and wounded others, according to media reports.

Health authorities in Gaza said at least 4,600 people have been killed in Israel's two-week bombardment since the Hamas attack in which 1,400 people in Israel were killed.

Palestinian Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed in a call late last night the means of stopping Israel's "brutal crimes" in Gaza, Hamas said in a statement.

Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the fenced border around Gaza for a planned ground invasion aiming to crush Hamas.

Fears that the conflict war could escalate into a wider Middle East conflict rose over the weekend with the United States warning of a significant risk to US interests in the region and announcing a new deployment of advanced air defenses.

The Pentagon has already dispatched a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East, including two aircraft carriers, support ships and about 2,000 Marines, to help deter attacks by Iran-affiliated forces.

"What we're seeing ... is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told ABC's This Week yesterday.

Iranian security officials told Reuters that Iran's strategy was for Middle East proxies like Hezbollah to pursue limited strikes on Israeli and US targets, but to avoid a major escalation that would draw in Tehran.

In neighbouring Syria, where Hamas' main regional backer Iran has a military presence, Israeli missiles hit Damascus and Aleppo international airports yesterday, putting both out of service and killing two workers, Syrian state media said.

Along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Hezbollah has clashed with Israeli forces in support of Hamas in the deadliest escalation of frontier violence since an Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006.

Early this morning, Israeli aircraft struck two Hezbollah cells in Lebanon that were planning to launch anti-tank missiles and rockets toward Israel, its military said. Israel's military also said it struck other Hezbollah targets, including a compound and an observation post.

Hezbollah said that one of its fighters was killed, without providing details.

With violence around its heavily guarded borders increasing, Israel yesterday added 14 communities close to Lebanon and Syria to its evacuation contingency plan in the north of the country.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on the international community to create "a united front" to stop Israel's attacks in Gaza and allow desperately needed aid which has only begun to trickle in.

A second convoy of 14 aid trucks entered the Rafah crossing to besieged Gaza last night, and US President Joe Biden and Mr Netanyahu affirmed in a call "there will now be continued flow of this critical assistance into Gaza," the White House said.

The UN humanitarian office said the volume of aid entering so far was just 4% of the daily average before the hostilities and a fraction of what was needed with food, water, medicines and fuel stocks running out.

Mr Biden also ramped up his diplomacy, convening calls yesterday with Mr Netanyahu and Pope Francis and speaking with the leaders of Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Britain about getting aid into Gaza and preventing the conflict from spreading.

In a joint statement, the leaders voiced support for Israel's right to defend itself. They also called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

Mr Netanyahu also held a phone call with the leaders of France, Spain and the Netherlands last night, the Israeli leader's office said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will visit Israel today and French President Emmanuel Macron will visit tomorrow.

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