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Israel pounds Gaza refugee camp as war enters ninth month

A Palestinian woman and a child cry as they mourn the death of a loved one outside a hospital in central Gaza
— Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Israeli forces bombarded a Gaza refugee camp Friday after a deadly strike on a UN-school there, as the war sparked by Hamas's unprecedented attack on Israel entered its ninth month.

Efforts to mediate the first ceasefire in the bloody conflict since a week-long pause in November appear to have stalled a week after US President Joe Biden offered a new roadmap.

Hamas has yet to respond to Biden's proposal, while Israel has expressed openness to discussions but remains committed to destroying the Palestinian Islamist group.

In a new diplomatic push, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and key regional partners Egypt, Jordan and Qatar from Monday on his eighth Middle East trip since the war began, the State Department said.

As Gaza faced Israeli attacks from land, sea, and air Friday, witnesses said the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza was hit again, a day after the Israeli strike on the UN-run school.

Palestinian girls carry water containers in the Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah said at least 37 people were killed in Thursday's air strike, which the Israeli military said targeted "terrorists" hiding in three classrooms.

On Friday the military as well as the Hamas-run government media office reported another Israeli strike on a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, in Al-Shati refugee camp.

The army said it targeted Hamas militants operating from a container on the northern Gaza school grounds.

An AFP photographer saw Palestinians inspecting the remains of the charred container after the strike that the media office said killed three people.

- Strikes across Gaza -

UNRWA said hundreds of displaced Gazans were sheltering at the Nuseirat school targeted Thursday, which was "hit without prior warning".

A UN worker inspects the remains of a container hit by Israeli bombardment at a school in Gaza's Al-Shati refugee camp

The agency's chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said on X that despite UN premises being "damaged, destroyed, targeted or used for military purposes almost on a daily basis... no one is being held accountable".

Israel accuses Hamas and its allies in Gaza of using civilian infrastructure, including UN-run facilities, as operational centres -- charges the militants deny.

A separate Israeli strike late Thursday killed Nuseirat mayor Iyad al-Mughari and four family members as he visited a water pumping station, a municipality spokesman said Friday, with the army saying he was a Hamas operative.

Witnesses and the Israeli military reported strikes and fighting east of Deir al-Balah and near the Bureij camp.

A central Gaza hospital source said a strike on the Wafati home in Maghazi camp killed six people.

A member of the United Nations checks a UN-run school housing displaced people that was hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat refugee camp

Warships bombarded areas west of Gaza City, an AFP correspondent said, and the military released footage of troops in the southern city of Rafah.

Osama al-Kahlut of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society told AFP Israeli forces east of Deir al-Balah were firing on people along Gaza's main thoroughfare, reporting "several wounded".

- Israeli isolation -

The war was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 251 hostages, 120 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 36,731 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Activists block the entrance to the German embassy in Tel Aviv, calling on Berlin to stop arming Israel

Israel has faced growing diplomatic isolation, with international court cases accusing it of war crimes and several European countries recognising a Palestinian state.

Israel's UN envoy, Gilad Erdan, said Friday he was "disgusted" that the Israeli military will be on an upcoming United Nations list of countries and armed forces that fail to protect children during war.

A diplomatic source later told AFP that Hamas as well as Palestinian Islamic Jihad would also be included in the annual UN report, which highlights human rights violations against children in conflict zones and is expected by the end of June.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to address the US Congress next month, also faces pressure from within his government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) has faced pressure over the war from within his government

On Friday, the office of war cabinet member Benny Gantz announced a news conference for Saturday, the deadline he gave Netanyahu last month to approve a post-war plan for Gaza.

Israeli media reported that Gantz, a centrist former military chief, was likely to announce his resignation.

- 'Just words' -

A week ago, Biden outlined what he labelled an Israeli plan to halt the fighting for six weeks while hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the delivery of aid into besieged Gaza is stepped up.

G7 powers and Arab states have backed the proposal, with 16 world leaders joining Biden's call for Hamas to accept the deal.

But Beirut-based senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan called Biden's proposal "just words".

Stalls set up by vendors outside a charred UN building in north Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp

Qatar said Thursday Hamas has not yet given its response to the truce plan.

Major sticking points include Hamas insisting on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal -- demands Israel has rejected.

On his visit, Blinken "will emphasise the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table" which "would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians", said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

The conflict has laid waste much of the Gaza Strip, uprooted most of its 2.4 million people and put them at risk of starvation.

The UN's labour agency said Friday the war had "caused loss of jobs and livelihoods on a massive scale", with nearly 80 percent of Gazans now unemployed.

As aid entering Gaza has slowed to a trickle, a temporary pier meant to boost humanitarian shipments by sea has been "successfully reestablished" after storm damage, the US military said Friday.

Pope Francis, speaking on the 10th anniversary of an Israeli-Palestinian meeting at the Vatican, deplored "the hatred" sowed by the conflict "even among future generations".

"All of us must work and commit ourselves to achieving a lasting peace, where the State of Palestine and the State of Israel can live side by side," he said.

burs-ami/srm