Israel says troops encircle Gaza

Israeli ground troops encircled Hamas stronghold Gaza City on Friday, after close ally the United States urged "concrete steps" to minimise civilian casualties.

Ahead of top US diplomat Antony Blinken's scheduled visit to Israel Friday, the country's military said it had "completed the encirclement" of Gaza's largest city -- signalling a new phase in the month-long war against Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also on Thursday hailed victories so far, telling a group of elite soldiers that Israeli forces were "advancing" despite "painful losses".

"We are in the midst of the campaign. We have very impressive successes" he said at a base near Tel Aviv.

"We are already more than on the outskirts of Gaza City. We are advancing."

Israel's military describes Gaza City as "the centre of the Hamas terror organisation".

But it is also home to some half a million Palestinians who have endured weeks of withering aerial bombardments, dwindling supplies and daily carnage.

Outside Gaza City's Al-Quds hospital, displaced residents seeking shelter from Israeli strikes told AFP that civilians would not withstand the barrage much longer.

"This is not a life. We need a safe place for our kids," said 50-year-old Hiyam Shamlakh. "Everybody is terrified, children, women and the elderly."

But yet more carnage seems to lay ahead, as the conflict turns to urban and underground warfare -- with Hamas fighting from a tunnel complex believed to span hundreds of kilometres (miles).

A new video posted by Hamas sought to illustrate the devastating impact of its underground network, with a gunman seemingly emerging from a tunnel to plant an explosive on a nearby and unsuspecting Israeli tank.

The Ezzedine Al...

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