Israel drops leaflets in Gaza asking Palestinians for help finding hostages

Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Saturday while its planes dropped leaflets on the southern area of Rafah urging Palestinians seeking refuge there to help locate hostages held by Hamas, residents said.

The leaflets showing photos of 33 hostages, their names written in Arabic, urging displaced Palestinians to make contact: “Do you want to return home? Please make the call if you recognise one of them.”

“They are asking people’s help because they are unable to get to their hostages because of the resistance,” said Abu Ali, one north Gaza resident. “End the war, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and get your people back,” he said.

More than 100 of the hostages seized by Hamas were freed during a short-lived November truce. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, 27 of whom have been killed in captivity.

Family members of hostages and supporters camp outside the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Caesarea, Israel on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

In Israel, families of hostages camped outside Netanyahu’s residence in the coastal city Caesarea.

“He needs to choose one [deal] and end the hostage saga,” said Eli Stivi, whose son Idan is being held incommunicado in Gaza.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, Palestinian fighters battled tanks trying to push back into the eastern suburbs of the Jabalia area, where Israel had started pulling out troops and shifting to smaller-scale operations, residents and militants said.

The Israeli military said aircraft struck militant squads trying to plant explosives near troops and fire missiles at tanks in northern Gaza and said it was striking targets throughout Gaza.

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In the southern area of Khan Younis, where Israel says it has expanded its operations against Hamas, witnesses said tanks shelled areas around Nasser Hospital overnight, describing the bombardment as the most intense in many days.

Nasser is now Gaza’s largest functioning hospital. Israel says Hamas fighters operate from in and around hospitals, including Nasser, which Hamas and medical staff deny.

The Israeli military said that in Khan Younis it raided a military compound, neutralised ready-to-use rocket launchers and found explosives stashed underground while an aircraft struck two gunmen there. In north Gaza, troops raided a weapons site, and the military said it confiscated enough chemical materials and gear to manufacture 800 rockets.

With nightfall, residents said Israeli planes and tanks intensified their bombardment in Jabalia on the northern edge of Gaza, and in Khan Younis and Rafah in the south.

Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Five people were killed when an Israeli air strike hit a house in Jabalia, health officials said.

In Rafah, doctors said four people were killed and others were wounded when an Israeli air strike hit a car in the middle of Rafah city. The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

The Gaza health ministry said Israeli strikes had killed 165 people and wounded 280 others in the past 24 hours, one of the biggest death tolls in a single day so far in 2024.

It did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in its daily toll, but most of the 24,927 Palestinians killed since the October 7 war began are civilians, health officials say.

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Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas in Gaza after its fighters burst into Israel on October 7, and rampaged through Israeli towns and bases killing 1,200 people, most of them civilians, dragging 253 hostages back to the enclave.

Israel says its forces have so far killed around 9,000 militants.

In more than 100 days of war, Israel’s air, land and sea offensive has laid much of Gaza to waste, displacing most of the 2.3 million population, many forced to move repeatedly and seek refuge in tents that do little to protect them from the elements and disease, according to the United Nations.



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