Israeli tanks have briefly reached the outskirts of Gaza City as the army escalated its ground and aerial assault on the besieged Gaza Strip.
Palestinian sources told Al Jazeera on Monday that Israeli tanks made an incursion towards Salah al-Din Street, in the middle of the Gaza City governorate, a distance of about 3km (1.8 miles) from the Gaza fence. Heavy clashes were reported in the area.
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Tanks entered the Zaytun district in south of the Palestinian territory’s main city, cutting a key road from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip for more than an hour, witnesses told AFP news journalists in southern Gaza by phone.
“They have cut the Salah al-Din road and are firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it,” a resident said.
Reporting from a few kilometres away, Al Jazeera’s Safwat Kahlout said he could see “plumes of smoke” rising over the area where the tanks were reported to be.
Israeli jets bombed a section of the road leaving large craters, a resident told AFP. Video footage verified by Al Jazeera showed a tank blowing up one car on the road. Palestinian medical sources are reporting that three people were killed in the attack.
Later on Monday, Salama Maarouf, the head of the Hamas government office in Gaza, said the Israeli tanks had retreated from the outskirts of Gaza City.
“There’s absolutely no ground advance inside the residential neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip. What happened on Salah al-Din Street was the incursion of a few occupation army tanks and a bulldozer,” Maarouf said in a statement.
“These vehicles targeted two civilian cars on Salah al-Din Street and bulldozed the street before the resistance forced them to retreat. There is currently no presence of occupation army vehicles on Salah al-Din Road, and citizen movement has returned to normal on the road,” he said.
The tanks stayed for just over an hour and cars soon returned to the highway, driving onto the verge in the parts where craters made the road unusable, according to reports.
More than 8,000 dead
Since Friday, Israeli forces have stepped up their ground offensive as part of the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks that Israeli officials say killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, with another 239 people taken as captives.
The health ministry in Gaza says more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians and more than half of them children, have since been killed in Israeli air and ground attacks.
Also on Monday, the Israeli army said it had struck more than 600 targets in 24 hours, up from 450 the previous day, in one of the most intense days of the conflict.
Israel has on several occasions warned the 1.1 million people living in northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to head south to avoid its military strikes as it pushes ahead with a mission to “destroy” Hamas, the group that rules the besieged Palestinian enclave. However, the bombardment continues and residents say there are no safe routes to evacuate.
Although huge numbers of people have left in recent weeks, tens of thousands more are believed to be still in the zone.
The Israeli army said troops killed “dozens” of Hamas fighters in overnight clashes, saying they had “barricaded themselves inside buildings and tunnels and attempted to attack the troops”.
In one incident, a fighter jet targeted a building Israel’s army claimed had “over 20 Hamas terrorist operatives inside”, while another fighter jet was guided to an antitank missile launching post in the area of al-Azhar University. The university is in the heart of Gaza City.
The Israeli military also said it hit “weapons depots, dozens of anti-tank missile launching positions, as well as hideouts and staging grounds used by the Hamas terrorist organisation”.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies