Deadly fighting and air strikes rocked besieged Gaza on Monday, a day after an attack that killed three US troops in Jordan heightened fears of a wider regional conflict.
Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip killed 140 people overnight, including 20 members of one family, said the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.
The Israeli army, in its war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, said its troops had “encountered and killed dozens of armed terrorists in battles in central Gaza”.
Ground forces backed by tanks have focused combat operations on the coastal strip’s main southern city of Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar.
The almost four-month-old war was sparked by the Hamas attack which resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants of Hamas, considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and European Union, also seized 250 hostages, of whom Israel says around 132 remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.
Israel’s relentless military offensive has since killed at least 26,422 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
In the latest efforts to broker a new ceasefire, CIA chief William Burns met top Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials in Paris on Sunday, but no breakthrough was reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the talks were “constructive” but pointed to “significant gaps which the parties will continue to discuss this week”.
US President Joe Biden sent Burns to try to negotiate the release of remaining hostages in exchange for a ceasefire, a security source has confirmed to AFP.
The New York Times reported Saturday that the negotiators were discussing a deal under which Israel would suspend the war for about two months in return for the release of over 100 hostages.
– Jordan attack kills 3 US troops –
Since the outbreak of the Gaza war, Israel and its top ally the United States have faced attacks from, and struck back at, multiple Iran-backed armed groups with violence flaring in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel have traded near daily cross-border fire, and Yemen’s Huthi rebels have launched attacks on Red Sea shipping, sparking US and British strikes on their bases.
US forces in Iraq and Syria have also been targeted more than 150 times, the Pentagon says. Most attacks were claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked groups.
On Sunday, a drone attack on a remote base in Jordan, near the borders with Iraq and Syria, killed three US troops and wounded 25 others, the US military said.
Biden blamed “radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq” and pledged to hold “all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing”.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani labelled the accusations “baseless” and said Tehran “does not welcome the expansion of conflict in the region”.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the Jordan attack “a message to the American administration” and warned that “the American-Zionist aggression on Gaza risks a regional explosion”.
– Bitter row over UN aid agency –
The Gaza war has forced more than one million Palestinians to flee to the far-southern Rafah area near the Egyptian border, according to the UN, deepening the humanitarian crisis.
Hunger and disease have spread in crowded tent cities where families shelter in makeshift tents against the cold winter rain and mud while fearing more air strikes.
Alarm over their plight has heightened amid a bitter row over the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, after Israel charged several of its staff partook in the October 7 attack.
Japan became the latest major donor to freeze funding for the agency that has provided most food, medical and other aid to the 2.4 million people of long-blockaded Gaza.
UN chief Antonio Guterres has pleaded for continued financial support, saying “the dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met”.
Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, warned that suspending funding “overtly defies” an International Court of Justice order to allow more aid into Gaza.
Israel has argued the UN agency must play no role in post-war Gaza, and Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, charged that funding for it “will be used for terrorism”.
Many Israelis, enraged by the October 7 attack, back the war effort by Netanyahu’s government, the most religious and ultranationalist in Israel’s 75-year history.
Hundreds of protesters have rallied at the Kerem Shalom border crossing in recent days and repeatedly blocked aid trucks from entering Gaza.
And thousands demonstrated Sunday to call for the re-establishment of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, in a rally joined by several far-right ministers.
“If we don’t want another October 7, we need to… control the territory,” said National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Israel seized Gaza in 1967 before withdrawing its troops and settlers from the territory in 2005.
Netanyahu in official statements has rejected resettlement in Gaza, but the rally showed that the once-fringe position has gained momentum within his hard-right government.