Israeli airstrikes crush apartments in Gaza refugee camp, as ground troops battle Hamas militants

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought on Tuesday to a treatment room of al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Paramedics evacuate wounded Israelis from a building after its parking lot was hit Tuesday by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Ilan Assayag)

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — A barrage of Israeli airstrikes leveled apartment buildings in a refugee camp near Gaza City on Tuesday, with rescuers clawing through the destruction to pull men, women and children from the rubble. Israel said the strike, which targeted a senior Hamas military leader, destroyed a militant command center and an underground tunnel network.

The toll from the attack in the Jabaliya camp was not immediately known. The director of the nearby hospital where casualties were taken, Dr. Atef Al-Kahlot, said hundreds of people were wounded or killed, but he did not provide exact figures.

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The Israeli military said dozens of militants were killed, including a key Hamas commander for northern Gaza.

Israel aggressively defended the attack, with military spokesman Jonathan Conricus saying the targeted commander had also been a key planner of the bloody Oct. 7 rampage that started the war, and that the apartment buildings collapsed only because the vast underground Hamas complex had been destroyed.

Neither side’s account could be independently confirmed.

The strike underlined the anticipated surge in casualties on both sides as Israeli troops battling Hamas militants advance deeper into the northern Gaza Strip toward dense, residential neighborhoods. Israel has vowed to crush Hamas’ ability to govern Gaza or threaten Israel following the Oct. 7 assault, which ignited the war. Hamas, an Islamic militant group, openly calls for the destruction of Israel.

Israel said two of its soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Gaza, the first military deaths it reported since the ground offensive into the tiny Mediterranean territory accelerated late last week.

Several hundred thousand Palestinians remain in northern Gaza in the path of the ground assault. They have crowded into homes or are packed by the thousands into hospitals that are already overwhelmed with patients and running low on supplies.

In the Jabaliya refugee camp — a densely built-up area of small streets on Gaza City’s outskirts — dozens of rescuers searched for survivors amid a series of obliterated buildings and others that had partially collapsed.

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