Battles rage across Gaza, Israel releases images of armed men at UN site

Battles rage across Gaza, Israel releases images of armed men at UN site


Israeli troops fought Hamas fighters across Gaza on Wednesday, including the southern city of Rafah.

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli troops fought Hamas fighters across Gaza on Wednesday (May 15), including in the southern city of Rafah that had been a refuge for civilians, in an upsurge of the more than seven-month war that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Antagonism between Israel and the United Nations worsened as the Israeli army sought an explanation for footage showing armed men next to UN Palestinian relief agency vehicles. Separately, the UN said it was investigating an unidentified strike that killed an international staff member in Gaza earlier this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's army has in recent days pressed into the east of Rafah in pursuit of what it says are four Hamas battalions, despite warnings from its ally the US and others to hold off to avoid mass civilian casualties.

Since Hamas' Oct 7 attack, Israel has killed 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, with 82 dead on Tuesday in the highest single-day toll for weeks.

Hamas-led gunmen killed some 1,200 people in their initial raid, according to Israeli tallies, and still hold 128 hostages out of 252 people they captured in their cross-border raid.

In the northern Jabalia refugee camp, residents said Israeli tanks had destroyed clusters of homes but were facing heavy resistance. "They are bombing houses on top of their inhabitants. We know of many families being trapped inside their homes," said Abu Jehad.

Hamas ally Islamic Jihad said it killed some foot soldiers in Jabalia, while Israel's military said it had eliminated many militants in an area it had claimed to have cleared months ago.


Israeli tanks have been massed around the eastern edges of Rafah and in recent days have been probing into built up areas of the city, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting have been sheltering from fighting elsewhere.

Residents said Israeli forces had pushed into three eastern neighbourhoods and Palestinian gunmen were trying to prevent Israeli soldiers and tanks moving towards the centre.

Israel said its troops targeted a training compound in the city's east, killing militants in close-quarters combat and finding large amounts of weapons.

Israel reported one death in south Gaza which public broadcaster Kan said was the first such fatality since the start of a ground operation there last week.

In the north, Israeli military said it had concluded an operation in the Zeitoun area, killing "dozens of terrorists". Residents said tanks had pulled back from the area, with dozens of homes destroyed or damaged, while Palestinian medics said dozens of civilians had been killed and wounded.

Israel said its troops had identified fighters in the central logistics compound of the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA east of Rafah, demanding an explanation. Reuters verified the location of footage released by the Israeli army but could not verify when it was filmed or the identity of the men.

"The UN has in part become a terrorist entity in itself because it cooperates with Hamas and covers for it," Israel's ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

UNRWA has denied allegations of cooperating with Hamas.

The agency said it was examining the footage and would share information when possible. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the men were there to protect aid distribution.

"These are false allegations and lies. This is a police force tasked with securing aid centres against acts of theft and looting," Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


Separately, the UN said it was investigating an unidentified strike on a car in Rafah earlier this week that killed its first international staff member since Oct 7, a retired Indian army officer who had been en route to the European Hospital.

The Israeli military said an initial inquiry had concluded the vehicle, whose route it was unaware of, had been hit in an active combat zone and the incident was under review.

Some 254 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began, including 191 UN staff, according to the UN.

UNRWA estimates that 450,000 civilians have fled Rafah in the week since Israel told them to evacuate. But they have few places to go that are both safe and provide the basic essentials for survival.

"Despite catastrophic humanitarian needs, access restrictions & lack of safe passage obstruct efforts of humanitarian organisations to reach people across the Gaza Strip," it said on X.

The UN has warned of imminent famine in Gaza and repeatedly accused Israel of disregarding civilians and shooting at humanitarian convoys.

Global watchdog The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 105 media workers were among the dead in Gaza.

As the fighting intensifies, ceasefire talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt are at a stalemate, with Hamas demanding a permanent end to Israeli attacks and Netanyahu's government saying it will not stop until the group is annihilated.