Israel steps up offensive in Gaza; escalation threatens talks: Hamas

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CAIRO: Gaza City residents fled under Israeli fire as tanks thrust deeper into the heart of the city on Tuesday, the second day of a stepped-up military offensive that Palestinian militant group Hamas said could jeopardise ceasefire talks.

The armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said its fighters battled Israeli forces in fierce clashes with machine guns, mortar fire and anti-tank missiles on Gaza City’s front lines and had killed and wounded Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s military did not comment on casualties but said its soldiers were engaged in close-quarter combat with militants and had taken more than 150 fighters out of action in the last week and destroyed booby-trapped buildings and explosives.

The fighting has unfolded as senior US officials were in the region to push for a ceasefire after Hamas made concessions last week. But the renewed campaign threatened talks at a crucial time and could bring negotiations “back to square one”, Hamas quoted leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying.

In Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike early on Tuesday on a house of several storeys killed 17 people, including 14 children and a woman, Hamas’ media office said. Across Gaza, more than 40 Palestinians were killed on Tuesday in airstrikes, said medics.