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Israel stages air strikes across Gaza, makes arrests at hospital


Israeli forces carried out arrests in Gaza's largest functioning hospital, health officials and the military said on Saturday as airstrikes hit across the enclave and rain battered Palestinians taking shelter in Rafah.

Israeli forces raided the Nasser Hospital on Thursday in Khan Younis as they pressed their military offensive against Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the enclave.

"Occupation forces detained a large number of medical staff members inside Nasser Medical Complex, which they (Israel) turned into a military base," said Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday pledged to push on with the military campaign and said troops would move into the southern border city of Rafah.

The Israeli military said it was hunting for militants in Nasser and had so far arrested 100 suspects on the premises, killed gunmen near the hospital and found weapons inside it.

Hamas has denied allegations that its fighters use medical facilities for cover. At least two released Israeli hostages have said they were held in Nasser, and Israel has released pictures and videos supporting its claim that Hamas operates within medical compounds.

The Israeli incursion into the hospital has raised alarm about patients, medical workers and displaced Palestinians sheltering there.

About 10,000 people were seeking shelter at the hospital earlier this week, but many left either in anticipation of the Israeli raid or because of Israeli orders to evacuate, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Further south in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million population are sheltering, the winter cold added to already dire conditions when the wind blew away some tents of the displaced and rain flooded others.

Israeli plans to storm Rafah have prompted international concern that such action would sharply worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

'Delusional' demands

Netanyahu also said on Saturday that Israeli negotiators did not go back for further truce talks in Cairo because they got "nothing except for delusional demands from Hamas."

The Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to try to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended on Tuesday.

Those demands, he said, included ending Israel's military action, leaving Hamas as it is, freeing "thousands of murderers" from Israeli jails, and even demands regarding a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount in Judaism and the Noble Sanctuary in Islam.

He said Israeli representatives in Cairo "sat and listened, and there was no change. I wanted to say not a millimeter, but there was not a nanometer of change."

Also on Saturday, Hamas threatened to suspend ceasefire talks unless urgent aid was brought into northern Gaza.

Adding pressure on Netanyahu to reach a deal with Hamas, thousands of Israelis gathered outside the military headquarters in Tel Aviv in support of the hostages still in Gaza. They held up photographs and signs calling for their release, including one that read: "Time is running out!"

Netanyahu has seen his popularity plummet in opinion polls since Hamas' October 7 attack that sparked the devastating conflict in Gaza.

He was asked at a press briefing about calls within his own ruling Likud party to hold early elections right when the conflict in Gaza ends.

"The last thing we need right now are elections and dealing with elections since it will immediately divide us," he said. "We need unity right now."

(With input from Reuters)

(Cover: Injured Palestinians are brought to Kuwait Hospital for treatment following Israeli attacks on Rafah City in the south of Gaza on February 15, 2024. /CFP)

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