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Eight Israeli soldiers killed as fighting continues in Rafah

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Israeli military captures large quantities of weapons above ground and concealed in Hamas tunnels

No letup in Israeli pounding of Hamas terror network

JERUSALEM/CAIRO: Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, the Israeli military said, as forces continued to push in and around the southern city of Rafah and strikes hit several areas of Gaza, killing at least 19 Palestinians.

Earlier, the armed wing of Hamas said fighters had ambushed an armoured personnel carrier, killing and wounding a number of Israeli soldiers, in the Tel Al-Sultan area in the west of Rafah, where Israeli forces have been advancing for weeks.

Israeli tanks advanced in Tel Al-Sultan and shells landed in the coastal area, where thousands of Palestinians, many of them displaced several times already, have sought refuge.

Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant, more than eight months since the start of the war in October.

In Israeli air strikes on two houses in Gaza City suburbs, residents said at least 15 people were killed. Four others were killed in separate attacks in the south, medics said.

The Israeli military on Saturday said its forces in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, close to the border with Egypt, had captured large quantities of weapons, both above ground and concealed in the extensive tunnel network built by Hamas.

It said militants had on Friday fired five rockets from the humanitarian area in central Gaza. It said two had fallen in open areas in Israel and three fell short in Gaza.

“This is a further example of the cynical exploitation of humanitarian infrastructure and the civilian population as human shields by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip for their terrorist attacks,” the military said.

The Islamic Jihad armed wing, Al-Quds Brigades, said on Saturday Israel could only regain its hostages in Gaza if it ended the war and pulled out forces from the enclave.

A spokesman for Al-Quds Brigades made the remarks in a video posted on Telegram.

Islamic Jihad is a smaller ally of Hamas, which led a rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which it slaughtered 1,200 people and took more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza, although at least 40 have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.

Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to end the war before Hamas is eradicated.

At least 37,296 Palestinians ‑ 30 of them in the past 24 hours ‑ have been killed in Israel’s military campaign to eliminate Hamas, according to the Gaza health ministry. ‑REUTERS

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