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Israeli forces move farther into Gaza as the push against Hamas enters a 5th day

A girl looks on as she stands outside a building that was hit by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli forces fought with fighters from the militant group Hamas in central Gaza on Tuesday, as Israel’s ground campaign in the embattled territory continued into its fifth day.

According to Palestinian witnesses, Israeli troops have entered Gaza from its north and east. Israeli military officials have reported skirmishes between Hamas fighters and Israeli soldiers. An NPR producer in central Gaza reported the presence of an Israeli tank and bulldozer located south of Gaza City on Salah al-Deen, the main highway that runs north-to-south through the Gaza Strip.

All the while, Israel’s unrelenting airstrike campaign over the entirety of Gaza has continued. Airstrikes hit at least 300 targets in Gaza during the past day, Israel said Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have evacuated from the northern half of Gaza, packing into any available shelter in the south. Schools, hospitals and mosques are all sheltering hundreds of people, and private homes are crowded with dozens or more. In total, 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes, the U.N. says.

Israel continues to deny that its current operation is a “ground invasion,” referring it only as an “expanded operation” or a “new phase” in the war despite the continual presence of its troops in Gaza.

On Tuesday, Israel claimed the death of Nasim Abu Ajina, a Hamas fighter whom Israel said helped lead the Oct. 7 attacks, in which some 2,000 Hamas fighters flooded across Gaza’s border and killed 1,400 people and kidnapped hundreds of others. Abu Ajina “directed” the portion of the assault in two Israeli towns just north of Gaza, a statement from Israel’s military said.

In recent days, the number of Hamas hostages reported by Israeli officials has increased, due to what officials describe as complications with identifying foreign citizens. The total number of hostages now stands at 240, Israel says. Five have so far been freed.

More than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, including more than 3,400 children — a number that exceeded the total number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones each year since 2019, according to the humanitarian group Save the Children.

Israel will not agree to a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference Monday. He compared the calls for a Israeli ceasefire to asking the U.S. to cease hostilities after 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

At least 10 Americans are being held hostage by Hamas, officials say. And hundreds of American citizens remain trapped in Gaza.

The U.S. has representatives in Doha participating in negotiations over the release of the hostages and the safe exit of Americans from Gaza, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in “close contact” with Qatari officials in the effort, according to the State Department. Hamas controls the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and has blocked foreign citizens from leaving, officials say.

“There continue to be significant hurdles to doing both,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a Monday press briefing. “There is no higher priority, from the President on down.”

Greg Myre contributed reporting in Tel Aviv.