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8 Israeli soldiers killed in armoured vehicle explosion

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast in southern Gaza Saturday, the military said. The soldiers were killed when the Namer armoured vehicle they were travelling in exploded near Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah.

There was no immediate word on what triggered the blast.

Saturday’s losses were among the heaviest for the military since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27 and took its overall losses since then to 306.

In Rafah, witnesses reported clashes with Israeli troops in the city’s west and artillery fire towards a refugee camp in the city centre. AFPTV images showed streets largely deserted.

The United Nations says about one million people have fled Rafah since early May, when Israel began ground operations in the city in pursuit of Hamas.

In Gaza City, in the north of the territory, the civil defence agency reported recovering 10 bodies from three separate homes hit by Israeli strikes.

The Gaza war began after an unprecedented attack on southern Israel and Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,296 people, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

During a Middle East trip this week to push a Gaza truce plan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the best way” to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was “a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a ceasefire”.

That has not happened.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire – demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed, has not publicly endorsed it.

The Gaza war’s only truce, one week in November, saw more than 100 hostages released, the Israelis among them in exchange for imprisoned Palestinian.

World Food Programme deputy executive director Carl Skau said that “with lawlessness inside the Strip… and active conflict”, it has become “close to impossible to deliver the level of aid that meets the growing demands on the ground”.

“More than anything, people want this war to end,” he said after a two-day visit to Gaza.

The US military said a pier it built to help bring aid into Gaza would be temporarily moved to an Israeli port to protect it from expected high seas.

The platform had only been reattached to Gaza’s shore a week before, after storm damage.

Leaders of the G7 group of advanced economies called at a summit in Italy Friday for the “rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need”.

They also said the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, should be allowed to work unhindered in Gaza.

Israel had accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff of involvement in the October 7 attack, prompting several donor governments to suspend their contributions.

An independent review said Israel had failed to provide evidence to support its allegations. –AFP