KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops and tanks pushed deeper into Gaza on Monday, advancing on two sides of the territory’s main city, as the U.N. and medical staff warned that airstrikes have hit closer to hospitals where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.
Video circulating on social media showed an Israeli tank and bulldozer in central Gaza blocking the territory’s main highway, which the Israeli military in recent weeks has suggested Palestinians use to evacuate to the south. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain in the north would no longer be able to escape if the road is blocked.
The video, taken by a local journalist, shows a car approaching an earth barrier across the road. The car stops and turns around. As it heads away, a tank appears to open fire, and an explosion engulfs the car. The journalist, in another car, races away in terror, screaming, “Go back! Go back!” at an approaching ambulance and other vehicles.
The Gaza Health Ministry later said three people were killed in the car that was hit. The Israeli military declined to comment on where its forces were deployed.
Israel said late Monday that a female soldier captured by Hamas militants has been released during its ground operations in Gaza. The military provided few details, but she appears to be the first captive to be freed since Israel stepped up its ground war. The military says Private Ori Megidish “was medically checked, is doing well, and has met with her family.”
Hours earlier, the militant Hamas movement ruling Gaza released a short video Monday purporting to show three women captured during its wide-ranging Oct. 7 attack inside Israel, which triggered the war. One of the women delivers a brief statement, likely under duress, criticizing Israel’s response to the hostage crisis.
Hamas and other militants captured around 240 people during the deadly raid and have said they will release them in return for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including many implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis. Israel has dismissed the offer.
It was not clear when the video was made, but it was likely to add to the mounting domestic pressure on Israel’s leaders. Families of the captives who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend expressed support for an exchange.
The Associated Press usually refrains from reporting details of hostage videos because they show individuals speaking under duress and are often used for propaganda purposes.
The Israeli military has been vague about its operations inside Gaza, including the location and number of troops. But the movements of recent days, including stepped-up ground operations both north and east of Gaza City, combined with calls for residents to head south, point to a focus on the city.
Israel says much of Hamas’ forces and militant infrastructure, including hundreds of miles (kilometers) of tunnels, are in Gaza City, which before the war was home to over 650,000 people, a population comparable to that of Washington, D.C.
Casualties on both sides are expected to rise sharply if Israeli forces expand their ground operation and end up battling Palestinian militants in dense residential areas.
Though Israel ordered Palestinians to flee the north, where Gaza City is located, and move south, hundreds of thousands remain, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones. Around 117,000 displaced people hoping to stay safe from strikes are staying in hospitals in northern Gaza, alongside thousands of patients and staff, according to U.N. figures.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says nearly 672,000 Palestinians are sheltering in its schools and other facilities across Gaza, which have reached four times their capacity. Some have been there for weeks, without knowing when they will be able to return home or if their homes have been demolished by airstrikes.
The death toll among Palestinians passed 8,300, mostly women and children, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack, also an unprecedented figure.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said additional infantry, armored, engineering and artillery units had entered Gaza and the operations would continue to “expand and intensify.”
The military said troops have killed dozens of militants who attacked from inside buildings and tunnels. It said that in the last few days, it had struck more than 600 militant targets, including weapons depots and antitank missile launching positions. Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, including toward its commercial hub, Tel Aviv.
Hamas said its fighters clashed with Israeli troops who entered the northwest. It was not possible to independently confirm battlefield claims made by either side.
Meanwhile, crowded hospitals in northern Gaza came under growing threat. Strikes hit near Gaza City’s Shifa and Al Quds hospitals and the Indonesian and Turkish hospitals in northern Gaza in recent days, the U.N. and residents said Monday.
All 10 hospitals operating in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders, the U.N.’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said. Staff have refused to leave, saying evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.
Strikes hit within 50 meters (yards) of Al Quds Hospital after it received two calls from Israeli authorities on Sunday ordering it to evacuate, the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said. Some windows were blown out, and rooms were covered in debris. It said 14,000 people are sheltering there
Israel says it targets Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate among civilians, putting them in danger.
Beyond the fighting, conditions for civilians in Gaza are continually deteriorating as food, medicine and fuel run dangerously low amid a weekslong Israeli siege.
On Sunday, the largest convoy of humanitarian aid yet — 33 trucks — entered the territory from Egypt. Relief workers say the amount is still far less than what is needed for the population of 2.3 million people.
The siege has pushed Gaza’s infrastructure nearly to collapse. With no central power for weeks and little fuel, hospitals are struggling to keep emergency generators running to operate incubators and other life-saving equipment. UNRWA has been trying to keep water pumps and bakeries running.
On Saturday, crowds of people broke into four U.N. facilities and took food supplies in what the U.N said was a sign that civil order was starting to break down amid increasing desperation.
The fighting has raised concerns that the violence could spread across the region. Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have engaged in daily skirmishes along Israel’s northern border.
In the occupied West Bank, Israel said its warplanes carried out airstrikes Monday against militants clashing with its forces in the Jenin refugee camp, the scene of repeated Israeli raids. Hamas said four of its fighters were killed there. As of Sunday, Israeli forces and settlers have killed 123 Palestinians, including 33 minors, in the West Bank, half of them during search-and-arrest operations, the U.N. said.
The Israeli military said early Monday that its aircraft hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there fell in open Israeli territory. Syrian opposition groups said strikes destroyed three trucks entering eastern Syria from Iraq, and soon after Iranian-backed militias fired rockets at U.S. positions in Syria.
Roughly 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes because of violence along the border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon, according to the Israeli military.
Najib Jobain, Samy Magdy And Lee Keath, The Associated Press
Magdy reported from Cairo, and Keath from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writers Julia Frankel and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem, and Jack Jeffery in Cairo contributed to this report.