At least 44 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military strikes in central Gaza Strip areas since Tuesday, health officials in the enclave said.

“The sounds of bombardment didn’t stop all night,” said Aya, 30, a displaced woman in Deir Al-Balah.

The Israeli military said jets were hitting Hamas militant targets in central Gaza while ground forces were operating “in a focused manner with guidance from intelligence” in the area of Al-Bureij – one of Gaza’s long established refugee settlements.

“The forces of the 98th Division began a precise campaign in the areas of East Bureij and East Deir al-Balah, above and below ground at the same time,” an Israeli military statement said.

Residents said Israeli forces had sent tanks into Bureij and planes and tanks pounded the nearby settlements of Al-Maghazi and Al-Nuseirat as well as Deir Al-Balah city, where tanks have not invaded.

“Every time they speak about new truce talks, the occupation uses one town or refugee camp as a pressuring card. Why should civilians, people safe inside their homes or tents, pay the price? Why can’t Arabs and the world stop the war?” Aya told Reuters via a chat app.


Aya, like many in the Gaza Strip, said people were hopeful about reports in Egyptian state media that officials from the United States, Qatar, and Egypt would meet in Doha on Wednesday to try to advance a ceasefire deal that would also free some Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

“We are waiting for a response from Hamas” through the Qatari mediators, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday, referring to a ceasefire proposal that U.S. President Joe Biden revealed on Friday.

Qatar said on Tuesday that the proposal was now much closer to the positions of both sides.

Hamas has said it views the contents of the plan positively and has criticised Washington for what it described as attempts to blame the Palestinian militant group for hampering it.

But a spokesman for Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, reiterated on Tuesday it could not agree to any deal unless Israel makes a “clear” commitment to a permanent truce and complete withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it cannot do that until Hamas is wiped out.

U.S. officials say that since it is an Israeli plan, Israel is likely to accept it. Qatar has said Israel needs to give a clear position on the plan that represents the whole government, parts of which have opposed any kind of truce.

Also on Wednesday, a delegation of the Hamas-allied Islamic Jihad group arrived in Cairo for ceasefire talks, the group said in a statement. It said the delegation led by Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhala would discuss with Egyptian mediators ways to “end the Zionist aggression on Gaza Strip and efforts to send aid.”

The new Israeli military campaign in central Gaza forced some families to leave their homes in Al-Maghazi and Al-Burej and head towards Deir Al-Balah, which is already sheltering hundreds of thousands of Gazans displaced by violence elsewhere.

The Israeli military also gave an update on Rafah, into which Israeli forces swept last month in what the military calls a limited operation to root out Hamas’ last intact combat units after almost eight months of war in the Gaza Strip.

“The forces found combat means and eliminated armed saboteurs who operated nearby and posed a threat,” the military said.

The small city fringing Gaza’s southern border with Egypt had been sheltering about one million Palestinians who fled Israeli assaults in other parts of the enclave, but most have fled again in the face of Israel’s tank-led advance.

Residents in Rafah said Israeli tanks mounted raids into the centre and deeper into the west before retreating east and south again.

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) issued a new plea for a ceasefire on Wednesday on X.

“The war in #Gaza has upended millions of Palestinian lives & caused catastrophic damage to the natural environment that they depend upon for water, clean air, food & livelihoods. Restoring environmental services will take decades – & cannot even start until a #ceasefire,” it said.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas as it launched an air and ground offensive in Gaza last October after militants stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 120 hostages remain in Gaza.

The Israeli military campaign has killed more than 36,000 people in densely populated Gaza, according to its health authorities, who say thousands more bodies are buried under rubble.