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Israeli Troops Encircle Gaza City as Global Criticism of Strikes Mounts

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Top Israeli officials have said their forces are going out of their way to prevent civilian deaths, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also delivered an unapologetic defense of the aerial campaign.

On Thursday evening, he said that Israel’s ground forces were “already beyond the outskirts of Gaza City.”

“We are making progress,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote on social media. “Nothing will stop us.”

The Israeli military’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said on Thursday night that “Israeli soldiers have completed the encirclement of the city of Gaza, the center of the Hamas terror organization.”

The United Nations General Assembly, aid organizations and a large number of countries have urged a cease-fire, but the Biden administration has resisted making a similar call, instead pressing only for a humanitarian pause. American and Israeli officials have said a cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup, and Admiral Hagari on Thursday added, “The concept of a cease-fire is not currently on the table at all.”

Israel said its airstrikes were targeting Hamas militants responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,400 Israelis. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has retreated into a network of tunnels that course through the sandy soils underneath Gaza neighborhoods. The Israeli military singled out Ibrahim Biari, a commander it described as a central figure in the Oct. 7 attacks, and said that he and “a large number of terrorists who were with him were killed” in one Jabaliya strike. A Hamas spokesman denied that any of its commanders had been in the area.

Like the prime minister, Israeli officials have defended their conduct of the war. On Thursday, a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lior Haiat, accused Hamas of using Gazans as human shields. He said that “the entire responsibility lies on the terrorists of Hamas.”

“No other country in the world is making the same effort as Israel to prevent civilian casualties,” he said.

The Gazan interior ministry said that another strike on Thursday morning in the same neighborhood hit a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, and that several people were injured.

Satellite images showed the scale of destruction of Tuesday’s airstrike in Jabaliya. All buildings in an approximate area of at least 2,500 square meters, or 27,000 square feet, were completely flattened, with more surrounding buildings heavily damaged.

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