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CAIRO/GAZA/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: At a funeral in Gaza on Monday a line of Palestinians touched white shrouds containing the bodies of at least 70 people who Palestinian health officials said were killed by an Israeli airstrike targeting Maghazi in the centre of the besieged strip.

It followed one of the enclave’s deadliest nights in the 11-week-old battle between Israel and Hamas. One man hugged a dead child and others were hysterical.

“The walls and the curtains fell on us,” said one man. “I reached down to my four-year-old child but all I found were rocks.”

Strikes that began hours before midnight persisted into Monday. Palestinian media said Israel stepped up air and ground shelling in central Gaza.

Health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said many of those killed at Maghazi were women and children. Eight others were killed as Israeli planes and tanks carried out dozens of airstrikes on houses and roads in nearby al-Bureij and al-Nusseirat, health officials said.

Medics said an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis in southern Gaza killed 23, bringing total Palestinian fatalities overnight to more than 100.

Pope Francis said in his Christmas message on Monday that children dying in wars, including in Gaza, are the “little Jesuses of today” and that Israeli strikes were reaping an “appalling harvest” of innocent civilians.

Some of Gaza’s small Christian community took a break from the conflict and suffering to celebrate Christmas.

Several residents made pleas on social media for people to afford them shelter as they have become homeless after leaving their homes in Bureij.

“I have 60 people in the house, people who arrived at my house believing that central Gaza area was safe. Now we are searching for a place to get to,” said Odeh, a resident of the refugee camps.

The Israeli army said it was reviewing the report of a Maghazi incident and was committed to minimising harm to civilians. Hamas denies the Israeli charge that it operates in densely populated areas or uses civilians as human shields.

The Palestinian Red Crescent published footage of wounded residents being transported to hospitals. It said Israeli warplanes were bombing main roads, hindering the passage of ambulances and emergency vehicles.

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