Israel pounds Gaza City as tens of thousands flee their homes

Israeli air strikes pounded Gaza City Thursday as soldiers battled street-by-street with Hamas militants, and tens of thousands of Palestinians desperate for safety fled their homes southwards in the besieged territory.

After more than a month of intense bombardment, hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in a "dire humanitarian situation" in battle zones without enough food and water, the United Nations said.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that his forces were "tightening the stranglehold" around Gaza City, as they pressed an offensive launched in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 that killed 1,400 people in Israel, mainly civilians, in the worst attack in Israel's history.

The militants also took more than 240 people hostage, among them babies and elderly people.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with a relentless bombardment and ground invasion that the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them children.

"We've lost our homes, we've lost our children. Where is the global community?" said Nouh Hammouda, who was among those fleeing.

"We left our homes due to the relentless bombardment. Where can we go now?" Hammouda said.

Hostage negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected a ceasefire unless the hostages Hamas holds in Gaza are released.

According to a source close to Hamas, talks are underway for the release of 12 hostages, including six Americans, in return for a three-day ceasefire.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington "have a way to communicate with Hamas", but that giving details could jeopardise the process.

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