By Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Arafat Barbak
CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – Heavy Israeli tank fire and aerial bombardment hit Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip on Friday night, after Israel's campaign against Hamas militants was reported to have killed nearly 200 people in 24 hours.
Doctors and Palestinian journalists said planes carried out a series of airstrikes on the Nusirat camp in central Gaza.
Israeli forces are attacking Khan Younis in preparation for an expected further advance into the key southern city, which they captured in early December.
Defense Minister Yoav Galant said troops were reaching Hamas command centers and weapons depots. Israel's military said it destroyed a tunnel complex in the basement of one of Hamas leader Yahya Shinwar's homes in Gaza City.
Twelve weeks after Hamas militants attacked Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, Israeli forces have laid waste to large swathes of the Gaza Strip as they continue their battle to eradicate the Islamist group.
All of Gaza's nearly 2.3 million people have fled their homes at least once, and many are on the move again, often forced to shelter in makeshift tents or huddle under tarpaulins and plastic sheets in the open.
The narrow coastline is just 40 km (25 mi) long and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Gaza health officials said 187 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes in 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 21,507 – about 1% of Gaza's population. Thousands more bodies are feared to be buried in the surrounding rubble.
Palestinian journalist killed
A Palestinian journalist working for Al-Quds TV was killed along with some of his family members in an airstrike on their home in Nusirat camp in the central Gaza Strip, health officials and fellow journalists said.
Gaza's government media office said 106 Palestinian journalists were killed in the Israeli attack.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last week that the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war were the deadliest on record for journalists, with the most journalists killed in a single location in a single year.
Most of the journalists and media workers killed in the war are Palestinians. The report by US-based CPJ said it was “particularly concerned about the apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military”.
Earlier this month, a Reuters investigation revealed that Israeli tank crews killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdullah. They also found that on October 13, six journalists were injured in Lebanon when two shells were fired in quick succession while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.
Israel has previously said it has never deliberately targeted journalists and is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, but the high death toll has caused concern even among its staunchest allies.
The US has called on Israel to scale back the war and move to targeted operations against Hamas leaders in the coming weeks.
South Africa on Friday asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an urgent order declaring that Israel has violated its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Agreement against Hamas in Gaza.
It called on the court to take short-term measures to halt Israel's military campaign “to protect it from further, serious and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people.”
No date has been set for the hearing.
In response, Israel's Foreign Ministry accused Hamas of using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid from them. Hamas denies such allegations.
Israel helps deliver vaccines to Gaza
Israel said on Friday that it is facilitating the entry of enough vaccines to inoculate nearly 1.4 million people against diseases including polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and meningitis.
The vaccine exchange was coordinated with UNICEF, said a statement from COGAT — the defense ministry coordinating with the Palestinians — in order to prevent the spread of the disease in the enclave.
Gaza is completely dependent on outside supplies for food, fuel and medical supplies, and Israel has limited access to the southern part of the territory. International agencies say supplies from Israeli probes are a small fraction of Gaza's needs.
Last week Israel bowed to international pressure to open a second crossing, saying it would double the daily number of supply trucks to 200, but only 76 were able to enter on Thursday, up from 500 in peacetime, according to the United Nations.
An Israeli government spokesman said on Friday that humanitarian aid was not limited and that there was a problem with deliveries inside Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo and Arafat Barbak in Gaza; Writing by Daphne Saledakis and Kim Coghill; Editing by Grant McCool and Neil Fullick)
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