Israel opened a direct crossing for aid into Gaza for the first time in its more than two-month-old war on Hamas on Sunday while also stepping up attacks on the Palestinian enclave, saying military pressure was the only way its hostages would be freed.
The Israeli attacks took place amid fierce fighting the length of the coastal strip, according to residents and militants, with communications down for a fourth day, making it hard to reach the wounded.
“The communication blackout in Gaza is the longest since the start of the Israeli escalation,” the Palestinian Red Crescent said on X. Telecommunications were gradually being restored in central and southern areas, telecoms companies said later.
Hopes for peace had been raised on Saturday when a source said Israel’s spy chief had spoken on Friday with the prime minister of Qatar, which mediated hostage releases in return for a week-long ceasefire and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners.
In a further positive sign, the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza opened for aid trucks on Sunday for the first time since the outbreak of war, officials said, in a move to double the amount of food and medicine reaching Gazans.
But Israel accused aid officials of not distributing the deliveries.
Aid agencies say their work has been disrupted by the violence. “You cannot deliver aid under a sky full of airstrikes,” Juliette Touma, communications director of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, wrote on X.
Hungry crowds have also been stopping trucks at the Rafah crossing with Egypt and grabbing aid, the agency says. Men took boxes from one vehicle, which shed much of the rest of its load as it sped off.
Israeli missile strikes on a house belonging to the Shehab family killed 24 people and wounded dozens in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Hamas Aqsa radio said, quoting the director of the health ministry.
The son of Dawoud Shehab, spokesman of Hamas-ally Islamic Jihad, was among the dead, an official from the group told Reuters.
A medic said dozens people had been killed or wounded in the Shehab family home and nearby buildings.
“We believe the number of dead people under the rubble is huge but there is no way to remove the rubble and recover them because of the intensity of Israeli fire,” he said by telephone.
In Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, medics said 12 Palestinians had been killed and dozens wounded, while in Rafah in the south, an Israeli air strike on a house left at least four people dead.
People rushed to the building to rescue those trapped under the rubble. The sound of the explosion was “as powerful as an earthquake”, Mahmoud Jarbou’, who lives nearby, said.
“We were sitting in the house when suddenly shrapnel fell on us and people were screaming and streaming out into the street,” Jarbou’ told Reuters.
Israel said it had operated against “terrorist” targets.
Around 19,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, and thousands buried in the rubble of Israeli air strikes since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities, and captured 240 hostages in their surprise raid.
The accidental killing of three of the hostages on Friday by Israeli forces has increased pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure the release of the others, but Hamas said it would not negotiate any exchange “unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all”.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of one of the three, 26-year-old Alon Shamriz, in central Israel on Sunday.
Standing over his flag-draped coffin, his mother, Dikla, paid tribute.
“My child, you were strong, determined, smart. You were a hero. You survived 70 days in hell. I know you felt us all the time, the way we felt you. Another moment and you would have been in my arms,” she said as family and friends wept.
Israel’s military said on Sunday that 121 soldiers had been killed since the ground campaign began on Oct. 27, when tanks and infantry began to push into Gaza’s cities and refugee camps.
Netanyahu read out a letter at his weekly cabinet meeting which he said was written by relatives of dead soldiers.
“You have a mandate to fight. You do not have a mandate to stop in the middle,” he quoted them as saying, responding: “We will fight to the end.”
The toll is already almost twice as high as during a ground offensive in 2014.
The Israeli military said its troops had found weapons and a tunnel used by militants to attack troops in Shejaia, a suburb near Gaza City, and destroyed a weapons storage facility in the home of a Hamas operative.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad said its fighters targeted Israeli forces in Gaza City with mortar bombs, while residents said Israeli tanks shelled villages in central Gaza, where fighting has intensified in recent days.
In Khan Younis in southern Gaza, residents reported hearing Israeli planes and tanks bombing and shelling and the sound of rocket-propelled grenades, apparently fired by Hamas.
Medics said Israeli forces had shelled the courtyard of the city’s Nasser hospital and surrounding areas, with a new air strike on a school there on Sunday.
The Israeli military said it had killed seven “terrorists” in an air strike on Khan Younis and found rocket manufacturing parts and three tunnel shafts near a school used as a shelter. It also said it had struck the local Hamas commander’s office and gained control over the central Bani Suheila Square.
Israel says it goes to great lengths to avoid hitting civilians as it seeks to eliminate Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2006 and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.