GAZA STRIP: The Israel-Hamas war entered its 200th day on Tuesday with fears mounting of an Israeli invasion in the overcrowded south of the besieged Gaza Strip amid calls for hostages to be freed.

The Israeli army carried out intense shelling overnight of Gaza City, AFP correspondents and witnesses said, with the military saying it also struck Hamas positions in south Gaza.

Shelling and loud explosions were heard in southwest Gaza and the city of Khan Yunis in the south, while air strikes struck near the Bureij refugee camp and artillery fire hit the Nuseirat refugee camp.

The war erupted when Palestinian poured across the border with Israel on October 7 in an unprecedented Hamas-led attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

In retaliation, Israel launched a military offensive that has killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

About 250 people were abducted during the Hamas attack. Israel estimates that 129 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday called for the captives’ release.

“As long as the hostages are not free, we will not let up,” she said on X. “Only when they are home will peace have a chance.”

As diplomacy aimed at ending the war stalls, key mediator Qatar said Hamas’s political leadership would stay in Doha “as long as their presence here... is useful and positive in this mediation effort”, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari.

The Gulf state, which has hosted Hamas leaders since 2012, said last week it was reassessing its mediation role, fuelling speculation that the Palestinian group could be asked to leave.

Gaza’s Civil Defence agency said Monday that about 200 bodies were uncovered of people killed and buried by Israeli forces at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, which Israel has yet to comment on.

The United Nations rights office said it was “horrified” by the destruction at Nasser and Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, the territory’s two largest medical facilities, which were both previously raided by Israeli forces.

Demanding an “independent” probe, UN rights chief Volker Turk noted the “special protection” awarded to hospitals under international law. “The intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime,” he said.

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