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GAZA STRIP, (Palestinian Territories): Israel pummelled southern Gaza on Tuesday, killing dozens, even as authorities announced the winding down of the intense phase of the war that has inflamed tensions across the Middle East.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under mounting international pressure to end its offensive in Gaza launched in response to Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attacks.

But fears are mounting the war could be widening, with Iran and its proxies stepping up attacks across the region in solidarity with Hamas that rules the Palestinian territory.

A wave of Israeli strikes killed at least 78 people in the Gaza Strip overnight, Hamas’s press office said. An AFP correspondent said the southern city of Khan Yunis was hit hard.

A barrage of 50 rockets was fired later toward Netivot in southern Israel, without causing any casualties, the army said. The attack was claimed by Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

AFPTV live footage showed trails of smoke and explosions ring out as Israeli air defences intercepted rockets near Gaza.

Fighting has ravaged Gaza since October 7, when Hamas carried out an unparallelled attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Group also dragged about 250 hostages back to Gaza, 132 of whom Israel says are still in the Palestinian territory, including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

At least 24,285 Palestinians, about 70 percent of them women, children and adolescents, have been killed in Gaza in Israeli bombardments and ground operations since October 7, according to the Hamas government.

Khan Yunis has been the focus of Israeli military operations since the army said on January 6 that it had dismantled Hamas’s military structures in the north and was shifting its focus to the south.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had said on Monday that intense operations would soon be winding down in the territory’s south.

“In southern Gaza we will reach this achievement and it will end soon, and in both places, the moment will come when we will move to the next phase,” he said, without giving a time frame.

The army announced Tuesday the death of two more soldiers in Gaza, bringing the total number killed since its ground invasion began to 190.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday reiterated calls to stop the fighting.

“We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to ensure sufficient aid gets to where it is needed, to facilitate the release of the hostages, to tamp down the flames of wider war — because the longer the conflict in Gaza continues, the greater the risk of escalation and miscalculation,” he said. Israeli officials have repeatedly warned the fighting will go on for months.

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