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An Israeli airstrike on a house in the southern Gaza town of Rafah kills at least nine people, including six children

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s southernmost city killed at least nine people – six of them children – hospital authorities said on Saturday, as Israel continued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel’s war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in the already volatile Middle East.

Gaza’s civil defense said the attack hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah city late Friday. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man, were taken to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, hospital records showed.

At the hospital, family members wept and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.

Among the fatalities were Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.

“This is a world devoid of all human values ​​and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press on Saturday morning, crying as he cradled Alaa’s body in his arms and gently rocked him back and forth. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs except women and children.”

No casualties were recorded from a second overnight strike in the city.

Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, is currently home to more than half of Gaza’s total population, some 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting further north in the area.

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Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel’s closest ally the United States, the Israeli government has been insisting for months that it plans to launch a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas militants are hiding.

Such a ground operation has not yet materialized, but the Israeli army has repeatedly carried out air strikes on and around the city.

The war was sparked by an unprecedented attack on southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and abducting around 250 people and taking them to Gaza. Israel says there are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza, although more than 30 are now confirmed dead, either killed on October 7 or dying in captivity.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes had been taken to Gaza hospitals in the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 injured people, the report said. The last digits bring the total Palestinian death toll of the war between Israel and Hamas to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said. While Hamas-led health authorities do not distinguish between fighters and civilians in their count, they say at least two-thirds are children and women.

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The war has increased regional tensions, leading to a dramatic outbreak of violence between Israel and its arch-enemy Iran that threatened to escalate into full-blown war.

On Friday, both Iran and Israel downplayed an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, signaling the two sides were withdrawing from what could have become an all-out conflict. In recent weeks, an alleged Israeli attack killed two Iranian generals on an Iranian consulate in Syria, followed by an attack unprecedented Iranian rocket fire on Israel.

Israel has also had to deal with the militant group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy operating out of Lebanon, with the two sides there regularly exchanging missile and drone strikes across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have also joined the fight, launching attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

Tensions have also been high in the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli military raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp on Friday killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli army, Palestinian health officials and a militant group.

Palestinian health authorities said one of the dead was a 15-year-old boy who was shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly injured during the operation.

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Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy firefights with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, bordering Nur Shams, on Saturday morning. Further details were not immediately available. Residents of Tulkarem went on a general strike on Saturday to protest the attack on Nur Shams, with shops, restaurants and government buildings all closed.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has a limited foothold in many of the area’s northern towns and cities, including Tulkarem and Jenin. Militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, are active in both cities and often clash with Israeli soldiers during army attacks.

Since Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on October 7, there have been more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials say. Israel regularly carries out raids on towns and cities in the volatile area. The dead include militants, but also stone throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed in attacks by Israeli settlers.

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