Israel strikes Gaza amid calls to reduce casualties

Israel has kept up its barrage of the Gaza Strip despite intensifying international calls to reduce civilian casualties and address a mounting humanitarian catastrophe.

In central Rafah, in the south of the coastal enclave, 24 people were killed in an Israeli strike that hit two houses, Hamas media said on Thursday. There was no immediate confirmation from the Palestinian health ministry.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who is visiting the region and will be in Israel on Thursday and Friday, would discuss with the Israelis the need to be more precise with their strikes against Hamas targets, spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

An Israeli military helicopter fires a missile
Israel has besieged the Gaza Strip and laid much of it to waste since a Hamas attack on October 7.

Sullivan met with officials of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and discussed "broader diplomatic efforts to maintain stability across the region and prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from expanding," another US official said.

Nearly half of the air-to-ground munitions that Israel has used in Gaza in its war with Hamas since October 7 have been unguided, otherwise known as "dumb bombs," according to a new US intelligence assessment reported by CNN.

The news outlet said the assessment was compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and described to CNN by three sources who have seen it.

About 40-45 per cent of the 29,000 air-to-ground munitions Israel has used have been unguided and the rest have been precision-guided munitions, the CNN report added.

Israel says its bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza is aimed at annihilating Hamas, the group whose fighters stormed across the border fence from Gaza on October 7, killing 1200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and seizing 240 hostages.

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis
The vast majority of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been made homeless.

Since then, Israel has laid much of the Palestinian enclave to waste. At least 18,608 people have been killed and 50,594 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Fears of the conflict spreading in a volatile region remain.

A tanker in the Red Sea off Yemen's coast was fired on by gunmen in a speedboat and targeted with missiles, maritime sources said on Wednesday. It is the latest incident to threaten the vital shipping lane after Yemeni Houthi forces, which are backed by Iran, warned ships not to travel to Israel.

The Biden administration is delaying the sale to Israel of more than 20,000 US-made rifles over concerns about increasing attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Some 271 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, including 69 children, in the occupied West Bank this year, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency said.

Palestinians salvage their belongings after an Israeli strike in Rafah
Palestinian health officials said 13 people were killed in an Israeli strike in Rafah.

At least 288 displaced people in shelters run by the agency have been killed in Gaza since October 7, the agency added in a post on X.

The number of Israeli soldiers killed in the ground offensive has reached 115, and more than 600 wounded, according to an Israeli military website.

Some Biden administration staffers held a vigil in front of the White House late on Wednesday to call on Washington to support a ceasefire in Gaza.

The group of about 60 people carried a banner that read: "President Biden, your staff demands a ceasefire."

"We were horrified by the brutal October 7 attacks on Israeli civilians, and have been horrified by the disproportionate response by the Israeli government, which has indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza and displaced over a million more," the protesters said in a statement read by Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned a few weeks ago.

In New York, a demonstration was held demanding the release of the remaining 135 hostages held in Gaza.

Most Israelis say the army should not back off its unrelenting offensive to crush Hamas.

"It's awful. It's awful that there are so many civilian casualties," said Jerusalem resident Adam Saville.

"But this is war, and that's what happens in war."

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