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Israel pummels Gaza; White House envoy in Israel for cease-fire talks 

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a residential building in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, May 19, 2024.
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a residential building in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, May 19, 2024.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday to wage a more targeted military operation against Hamas in Gaza as Israeli forces pound the enclave from the air and on the ground leaving no haven for fleeing civilians.

Sullivan was expected to urge Israel not to wage a full-scale assault on the southern border city of Rafah and push to secure a cease-fire deal, the White House said before the discussions.

Israel considers Rafah to be the last bastion of Hamas forces, but it is also a hub of displaced refugees from across the strip. About 1.4 million Palestinian civilians were sheltering there, before the operation began two weeks ago.

Since then, an estimated 800,000 people have fled the city with nowhere safe to go, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Saturday.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini wrote on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, that civilians who had been displaced before are leaving Rafah and heading to "the middle areas and Khan Younis including to destroyed buildings."

Lazzarini said people were fleeing to places lacking water or adequate sanitation, including Al-Mawasi, a coastal town, and the city of Deir al-Balah, which are full of recently displaced people, he added.

"Across the Gaza Strip, there is no safety," said Majid Omran, a Gaza civilian who told Reuters his family had fled Rafah and just returned to what was left of their home in the southern city of Khan Younis that they had fled nearly five months ago.

Battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza's south have also "effectively blocked" the humanitarian aid routes there, Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator said.

"So, aid getting in through land routes to the south and for Rafah, and the people dislodged by Rafah is almost nil," Griffiths pointed out, calling the humanitarian crisis near “apocalyptic.”

He said, if aid does not reach the people who need it, “that famine, which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming anymore. It will be present."

Israeli strikes in Gaza killed 31 people Sunday, the Palestinian civil defense agency said, as Israel keeps pounding Gaza from the air and on the ground to weed out re-emerging Hamas cells.

The Israeli military said it was "operating to identify armed terrorist cells and ... conducting dozens of strikes to assist the forces operating on the ground" in northern Gaza’s Jabalia area.

The Israeli military has said its operations in Jabalia — the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps — target Hamas from reestablishing its grip there. Fighting with Hamas raged across the north on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to let up the fight until the Islamist group is defeated and all remaining hostages are brought home.

However, his Cabinet is facing an internal rift on a postwar Gaza governance plan.

Benny Gantz, one of the ministers of his War Cabinet, threatened to quit the governing coalition Saturday, unless Netanyahu approves a postwar "action plan" by June 8.

Gantz said this must include steps to defeat Hamas, to bring home the hostages and take steps toward the formation of an "American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip."

Netanyahu called Gantz's comments as "washed-up words" and said they would lead to "a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state," which the Netanyahu opposes.

In what Israeli media said was the result of intelligence gleaned during the latest incursions, the military announced the recovery of the body of a man who was among about 250 hostages taken by Hamas militants in their October 7 attack.

Ron Binyamin's remains were found along with those of three other hostages, whose recovery was announced Friday, the military said. It did not provide further details.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

The war was triggered by the October Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s subsequent counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which includes civilians and combatants in its count, but says most of the dead are women and children.

Israel says it has killed more than 14,000 militants and around 16,000 civilians.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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