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Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

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RAFAH, Gaza Strip -

Warning: Contains graphic content

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel's war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in the Middle East, notably between Israel and Iran in recent weeks. Now attention is returning to Rafah, which hosts more than half of Gaza's population of about 2.3 million, most of them displaced by fighting elsewhere.

The strike late Friday hit Rafah's western Tel Sultan neighborhood, according to Gaza's civil defence. At al-Najjar hospital, site of the main morgue, relatives sobbed and hugged white-shrouded children's bodies. "Hamza my beloved. Your hair looks so pretty," a mourning grandmother said.

The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their five-year-old daughter, Alaa.

"This is a world devoid of all human values and morals," Barhoum told The Associated Press, crying as he gently rocked Alaa's body. "They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. The only martyrs were women and children."

Israel has insisted for months that it plans a ground offensive into Rafah, where it says many remaining Hamas militants are holed up, despite calls for restraint from the international community including Israel's staunchest ally, the United States.

Some Palestinians left an area of Rafah near the border with Egypt on Saturday after receiving an evacuation alert from the Israeli army. "Guys, they will strike at 3:40. It is happening. What time is it now?" one said. Minutes later, a strike hit. It was not immediately known whether anyone was killed.

Also Saturday, an Israeli airstrike hit a house in the urban refugee camp of Bureji in central Gaza, killing at least one man and injuring two others, according to authorities at the al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, where an AP journalist saw the casualties.

Palestinians carry the wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, to the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

The war was sparked by an unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority civilians, and saw about 250 kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have died.

The Palestinian death toll from the war is at least 34,049, with 76,901 wounded, the Gaza Health Ministry said, adding that the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were taken to hospitals over the past 24 hours. The Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count but say at least two-thirds have been children and women.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties, saying it embeds in the population.

The war has sent regional tensions spiraling. On Friday, Israel and archenemy Iran played down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating they were pulling back from what could have become all-out war. A week ago, Iran fired an unprecedented missile barrage on Israel after an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria.

Israel continues to face off with Iran's proxies, frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have launched strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they call solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

Tensions also are high in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 12 bodies were taken Saturday from the Nur Sham urban refugee camp, raising the death toll to 13 since an Israeli military operation began in the area Thursday night. It said they were killed “as a result of the occupation’s aggression."

The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members. Another killed was a 15-year-old boy. The Israeli army said its forces killed 10 militants in the camp and surrounding areas while eight suspects were arrested. Nine of its officers and soldiers were wounded, it said.

At least 469 Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank have been killed by Israeli fire since October, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, the ministry said an ambulance driver was shot dead near Sawiya town while trying to reach Palestinians injured in clashes with Israeli settlers. The Palestinian Red Crescent said Mohammed Musa was shot in the chest. A wave of settler attacks began a week ago after an Israeli teen went missing and was found dead.

Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Jack Jeffrey in Jerusalem contributed.

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