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GAZA STRIP, (Palestinian Territories): Israel kept up deadly strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip on Sunday despite growing international calls for a ceasefire and pleas from desperate relatives to bring home the remaining hostages.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war started with the Hamas attacks of October 7 and has devastated much of the Palestinian territory, sparking global concern. The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said 24 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombardment in Jabalia camp in the north, with many still “missing under the rubble”.

It said at least 12 died in strikes on the central city of Deir al-Balah, while witnesses reported bombardment of Bani Suhaila east of Khan Yunis, Gaza’s second city, in the south.

Israeli strikes the length of Gaza as US calls for more accurate targeting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again vowed “we will fight until the end. We will achieve all of our aims — eliminating Hamas, freeing all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will not again become a centre for terrorism.”

But French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was the latest envoy to call for an “immediate and durable” truce leading to a lasting ceasefire as she visited Tel Aviv, stressing that “too many civilians are being killed”.

Her British and German counterparts, David Cameron and Annalena Baerbock, also bemoaned the high civilian toll but said it was not the right time for a ceasefire because it would not be sustainable.

“Calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent… ignores why Israel is forced to defend itself: Hamas barbarically attacked Israel and still fires rockets to kill Israeli citizens every day. Hamas must lay down its arms,” they wrote in Britain’s Sunday Times.

The Gaza war started when Hamas burst through Gaza’s high-security border fence and launched the worst-ever attack on Israel on October 7, killing some 1,140 people, mostly civilians, and abducting 250, according to updated Israeli figures.

Hamas says Israel’s retaliatory offensive, including over two months of aerial bombardment and a ground invasion, has killed 18,800 people, mostly women and children.

The Israeli army says it has lost 121 soldiers in the ground operations that began late October.

Pope Francis deplored the death of a Christian mother and daughter reportedly shot dead by an Israeli soldier at Gaza’s only Catholic church, where families were sheltering.

“A mother and her daughter… were killed and other people injured by sniper fire,” the pope said.

“This happened even inside the parish of the Holy Family where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick or disabled people.”

Israel’s bombardment has left much of Gaza in ruins, with the UN estimating 1.9 million Gazans — some 85 percent — have been displaced by the war and warning of a “breakdown of civil order”.

“I would not be surprised if people start dying of hunger, or a combination of hunger, disease, weak immunity,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The UN’s World Health Organisation also sounded the alarm after visiting the largest hospital, Gaza City’s Al-Shifa, weeks after it was raided by Israeli forces.

The WHO team said the emergency department was “a bloodbath, with hundreds of injured patients inside, and new patients arriving every minute”.

“Patients with trauma injuries were being sutured on the floor,” the WHO said, while “tens of thousands of displaced people are using the hospital building and grounds for shelter” amid “a severe shortage” of water and food.

The Israeli government has come under growing pressure, including from its top ally the United States, but also from families of hostages, to either slow, suspend or end the military campaign.

There are 129 hostages still in Gaza, Israel says, and relatives again rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday to call for an urgent deal to bring them home after the army admitted to mistakenly killing three captives in Gaza.

Ruby Chen, father of 19-year-old soldier Itai, who is among the captives, said: “We feel like we’re in a Russian roulette game (finding out) who will be next in line to be told the death of their loved one.”

Netanyahu said the killing of the three hostages “broke my heart. It broke the whole nation’s heart.”

But he added that, “with all the deep sorrow, I want to clarify: the military pressure is necessary both for the return of the kidnapped and for achieving victory over our enemies”.

Talks involving mediator Qatar have resumed toward another truce like the one last month that saw scores of hostages exchanged for jailed Palestinians.

News platform Axios said Israeli spy chief David Barnea met Friday in an unspecified European location with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Qatar in a statement Saturday reaffirmed its “ongoing diplomatic efforts to renew the humanitarian pause”. But Hamas said on Telegram it was “against any negotiations for the exchange of prisoners until the aggression against our people ceases completely”.

The Gaza war has also seen violence spiral in the occupied West Bank.

Five Palestinians were killed Sunday in an Israeli army operation at the Tulkarem refugee camp, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

More than 290 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers in the West Bank since the war erupted, health officials say.

The war has also raised fears of a broader Middle East conflict, with Israel exchanging regular fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah across its northern border with Lebanon.

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