KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel says a female soldier captured by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 incursion has been released during its ground operations in Gaza.
The military provided few details, but she appears to be the first prisoner to be released since Israel stepped up its ground war. The military says Private Ori Megidish “has been medically examined, is doing well and has met with her family.”
This is a recent update. AP’s earlier story follows below.
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops and tanks pushed deeper into the Gaza Strip on Monday, advancing on two sides of the territory’s capital, as the United Nations and medical workers warned that airstrikes have hit closer to hospitals where Tens of thousands of Palestinians alive have sought refuge along with thousands of wounded.
Videos circulating on social media showed an Israeli tank and a bulldozer in central Gaza blocking the territory’s main road, which the Israeli military had suggested in recent weeks for Palestinians to evacuate to the south. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remaining in the north would no longer be able to flee if there was a roadblock.
Video captured by a local journalist shows a car approaching an earthen barrier across the street. The car stops and turns around. As they drive away, a tank appears to open fire and an explosion rocks the car. The journalist runs away in terror in another car, shouting: “Go back!” Go back!” at an approaching ambulance and other vehicles.
Gaza’s Health Ministry later said three people were killed in the car that was hit. The Israeli military declined to comment on the location of its forces.
The militant Hamas movement, which rules Gaza, released a short video on Monday purporting to show three women captured during its sweeping attack in Israel on October 7 that sparked the war. One of the women makes a short statement, probably under duress, criticizing Israel’s response to the hostage-taking.
Hamas and other militants captured around 240 people in the deadly raid and said they would release them in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including many implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis. Israel rejected the offer.
It was not clear when the video was made, but it is likely to add to growing domestic pressure on Israel’s leadership. Families of prisoners who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend expressed support for an exchange.
The Associated Press typically avoids publishing details of hostage-taking videos because they show people speaking under duress and are often used for propaganda purposes.
The Israeli military was vague about its operations in the Gaza Strip, including the location and number of troops. But movements in recent days, including increased ground operations north and east of Gaza City, coupled with calls for residents to move south, suggest the city is the focus.
Israel says much of Hamas’s forces and militant infrastructure, including hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, are in Gaza City, which was home to over 650,000 people before the war, a population comparable to that of Washington, DC
Casualties on both sides are expected to rise sharply as Israeli forces expand their ground operations and end up fighting Palestinian militants in densely populated residential areas.
Although Israel has ordered Palestinians to flee the north, where Gaza City is located, and south, hundreds of thousands remain behind, in part because Israel has also bombed targets in so-called safe zones. Some 117,000 displaced people hoping to stay safe from strikes, along with thousands of patients and staff, are in hospitals in northern Gaza, according to UN figures.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says nearly 672,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in its schools and other facilities across the Gaza Strip, which have reached four times their capacity. Some have been there for weeks, not knowing when they will be able to return home or whether their homes have been destroyed by airstrikes.
The death toll among Palestinians exceeded 8,300, mostly women and children, Gaza’s health ministry said on Monday. This figure is unprecedented in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in Hamas’ first attack, also an unprecedented number.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said additional infantry, tank, engineering and artillery units had entered Gaza and operations were “continuing to expand and intensify.”
The military said troops killed dozens of militants who attacked from inside buildings and tunnels. It said more than 600 targets had been attacked by militants in recent days, including weapons depots and anti-tank missile launch sites. Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets at Israel, including towards its commercial hub Tel Aviv.
Hamas said its fighters clashed with Israeli troops advancing into the northwest. It was not possible to independently confirm either side’s claims on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, overcrowded hospitals in northern Gaza were increasingly in danger. Strikes have occurred in recent days near Shifa and Al-Quds hospitals in Gaza City, as well as Indonesian and Turkish hospitals in northern Gaza, the United Nations and residents said on Monday.
All 10 hospitals in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Staff refused to leave, saying the evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Rescue Service, attacks occurred within 50 meters (yards) of Al-Quds Hospital after it received two calls from Israeli authorities ordering an evacuation on Sunday. Some windows were blown out and rooms were covered in debris. It was said that 14,000 people were housed there
Israel says it is targeting Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate among civilians, putting them in danger.
Beyond the fighting, conditions for civilians in Gaza continue to deteriorate as food, medicine and fuel become dangerously scarce during the weeks-long Israeli siege.
On Sunday, the largest convoy of humanitarian aid to date – 33 trucks – entered the area from Egypt. Aid workers say the amount is still well below what is needed for the population of 2.3 million people.
The siege has brought Gaza’s infrastructure to near collapse. With no central power and little fuel for weeks, hospitals are struggling to keep emergency generators running to power incubators and other life-saving equipment. UNRWA has tried to keep water pumps and bakeries running.
On Saturday, crowds broke into four U.N. facilities and stole food supplies, in what the U.N. said was a sign that civil order was beginning to collapse amid increasing desperation.
The fighting has raised concerns that violence could spread across the region. Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah engage in daily battles along Israel’s northern border.
In the occupied West Bank, Israel said its warplanes carried out airstrikes on Monday against militants who clashed with its forces in the Jenin refugee camp, where there have been repeated Israeli attacks. Hamas said four of its fighters were killed there. As of Sunday, Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank have killed 123 Palestinians, including 33 minors, half of them in search and arrest operations, the United Nations said.
The Israeli military said early Monday that its planes had hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there hit open Israeli territory. Syrian opposition groups said strikes destroyed three trucks crossing into eastern Syria from Iraq and that Iran-backed militias fired rockets at U.S. positions in Syria shortly afterward.
According to the Israeli military, around 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes due to the violence along the border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon.
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