US stresses safety for Gaza civilians as Israel attacks

A US security envoy has held talks with Israel about shifting its strategy in Gaza toward surgical operations against Hamas and away from a broad ground campaign, as Palestinians reported heavy attacks along the narrow coastal strip.

Israeli tanks and planes on Friday intensified their bombardment of the northern Gaza, as well as Khan Younis and Rafah in the south of the enclave, residents, authorities and media said.

Four people, including two children, were killed and several others wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in Khan Younis early on Friday, Palestinian health officials said.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA said overnight Israeli airstrikes on Khan Younis and Rafah killed or injured tens of people. One of the strikes hit a housing block near the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah, WAFA added.

Live video footage looking into southern Gaza from Israel after dawn on Friday showed thick, black plumes of smoke rising into the air. The cause of the smoke was not immediately known.

Israel has been pounding the 40km length of Gaza with no sign of a pause in hostilities or a ceasefire that would enable delivery of more desperately needed basic supplies for civilians to survive as their homes have been destroyed.

Israeli soldiers in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighbourhood
Washington has been pushing Israel for weeks to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

Israel launched its military campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a rampage by Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules Gaza, whose fighters killed 1200 Israelis and seized 240 hostages in a cross-border raid on October 7.

Israeli forces have besieged the coastal strip and laid much of it to waste, with nearly 19,000 people confirmed dead, according to Palestinian health officials, and thousands more feared buried under the rubble.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed moves on Thursday to shift Israel's attacks on Gaza to lower-intensity operations focused on high-value targets during his visit to Israel, but it would be "irresponsible" to give specific time frames for such a change, a senior administration official told reporters.

Sullivan put a big emphasis on the need to protect civilians, and Israeli defence officials provided a detailed briefing about "the extraordinary efforts that they are undertaking to try to separate the civilian population from Hamas," an official said.

Israel says Hamas uses civilians and civilian buildings as shields, an allegation the group denies.

Washington has been pushing Israel for weeks to do more to protect civilians in Gaza's population of 2.3 million.

Biden, asked on Thursday whether he wanted Israel to scale back its assault on the Gaza Strip by the end of the year, said: "I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful."

The occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip need to be connected under a "revamped and revitalised" Palestinian Authority government, Sullivan said in an interview on Israeli TV.

He was to discuss the Palestinian Authority and holding "extremist" Jewish settlers accountable for violence against Palestinians when he visits Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday, a US official said.

Palestinians evacuate survivors of an Israeli strike in Rafah
Israel has pounded Gaza for two months, causing a humanitarian catastrophe with little end in sight.

Protests led by a Jewish group demanding a ceasefire were held on Thursday in eight US cities on the eighth night of Hanukkah, blocking streets and bridges in Washington and Philadelphia holding signs that read: "Let Gaza Live" and "Not in our name."

Israeli troops killed a youth at a hospital and read Jewish prayers at a mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin during raids that Palestinian authorities said on Thursday killed 12 people. Israel said it captured dozens of militants.

The Palestinian government criticised the operation inside Jenin as a "dangerous escalation" and in a statement said the desecration of the mosque by some Israeli troops fanned religious tension. Israel's army said it would discipline the soldiers.

Palestinians see the West Bank as central to a future independent state. Allies of Israel backing its war against Hamas militants in Israeli-occupied Gaza have urged restraint, including punishing Israeli settlers in the West Bank accused of armed attacks on Palestinians.

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