Israel strikes Gaza's biggest cities

Israel intensified its strikes in Gaza's main cities on Friday, more than two months after Hamas's deadly attack sparked a war that has claimed thousands of lives and left the Palestinian territory in ruins.

The death toll in Gaza has risen 17,000, mostly women and children, the Hamas-run health ministry said, with vast areas reduced to a rubble-strewn wasteland of bombed-out and bullet-scarred buildings.

Early Friday, the health ministry reported another 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City, and "dozens" more in Jabalia and Khan Yunis.

The Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, one of the leaders of a young generation of authors in Gaza who chose to write in English to tell their stories, was killed in an Israeli strike, his friends said overnight Thursday.

Israeli forces have encircled major urban centres as they seek to destroy Hamas over its unprecedented attack on October 7, when militants broke through Gaza's militarised border to kill around 1,200 people and seize hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, according to Israeli figures.

In a Thursday phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden "emphasised the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas", the White House said in a statement.

Biden also called for "corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities".

Backed by air power, tanks and armoured bulldozers, Israeli troops are fighting in Khan Yunis, the biggest city in southern Gaza, as well as in Gaza City and Jabalia district in the north.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday troops had closed in on the Khan Yunis home of Hamas's Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, 61, vowing "it is only a...

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