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Smoke billows after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 26.-/Getty Images

On the ground in Gaza, the war has entered a particularly destructive phase, with the heaviest fighting in weeks now taking place in crowded areas jammed with hundreds of thousands of people who fled elsewhere.

On Friday, Israel kept up its bombardment of the main Southern city of Khan Younis, where it said it was involved in “intensive battles,” with forces striking dozens of Hamas fighters and infrastructure from the air and ground.

Residents said gun battles raged overnight, with Israeli forces blowing up buildings and houses in the western part of the city in what has become one of its biggest offensives so far, waged among hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.

ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza, but fails to order ceasefire

Palestinians sheltering in southern Gaza said they felt let down by the lack of a ceasefire order from the court, but also hopeful the ruling would bring accountability.

“What happened was a victory,” said Mustafa Ibrahim, a human-rights activist.

In Israel, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son is being held hostage in Gaza, said he was encouraged by the ICJ’s call for the release of the captives, which he said reflected a largely neglected point that the Hamas assault sparked the war.

The militants released a video on Friday featuring three female hostages calling for an end to the conflict. Israel has said such videos amount to psychological abuse.

Talks on a possible temporary pause in fighting to release hostages and Palestinians held in Israel and allow more aid in Gaza are gathering pace. U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the issue on Friday in a phone call with the emir of mediator Qatar and the White House said Washington was hopeful about progress.

Liberal MPs remain split on genocide case as UN orders Israel to protect Palestinians

  • An Israeli army tank takes up position near Palestinians who arrived in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.Fatima Shbair/The Associated Press

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Chidren stand next to a tent as displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, at the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 26.IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/Reuters

Palestinians say Israel has blockaded hospitals making it impossible for rescuers to reach the dead and wounded. Israel denies blockading hospitals and says Hamas fighters are to blame for fighting near them for operating there.

“We believe many victims are still under the rubble and on the roads, the occupation prevents ambulance and civil emergency teams from reaching them,” Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said.

Aid agencies say thousands of Gazans now face starvation, especially small children who are most vulnerable to malnutrition. Relentless attacks against infrastructure and cold weather risked more civilian casualties and making Gaza “completely uninhabitable,” a UN agency warned on Friday.

“Most have no warm clothes or blankets. Northern Gaza, where IDF (Israel Defence Forces) bombardment continues, is barely accessible, even to provide basic humanitarian aid,” said Ajith Sunghay, head of the UN Human Rights Office for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In a further setback for stricken Palestinians, the United States said it was pausing funding to the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) after Israel alleged that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

UNRWA said earlier that it was urgently investigating and would hold accountable “any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror.” Israel accused the aid agency of announcing the news while the world’s attention was focused on the World Court.

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