Thousands of Palestinians fled heavy combat Thursday between Hamas and Israel in Gaza City as Israeli and US spy chiefs met in Qatar for talks on a possible humanitarian pause in the fighting.

Washington announced Israel had agreed to a daily four-hour military halt in northern Gaza to allow civilians out after more than a month of war sparked by the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.The limited pauses build on north-south “evacuation corridors” the Israeli army had promised would remain safe and which were used by tens of thousands to flee in recent days.In its reaction, the charity group Oxfam said the four-hour pauses in fighting were not enough. It said “US and Israel’s 4-hour Gaza pauses are not enough. Forced displacement is unacceptable. Israel must protect civilians, not displace them,” Oxfam said. “We need a ceasefire now to ensure families can safely stay home and access essentials like food, water, medicine and fuel.”CIA director Bill Burns and David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, were in Doha for talks on a potential “humanitarian pause” that would include hostage releases and more aid for Gaza, an official told AFP. While fighting raged Thursday, crowds walked south clutching children and small bags on the road leading away from the main focus of the war in Gaza City and its surroundings. But hundreds of thousands of civilians remained in battle zones in the north, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.On October 7, gunmen from the Islamist group poured over the Gaza border with Israel and, according to Israeli officials, killed 1,400 people and seized about 240 hostages in the worst attack in the country’s history. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with an aerial bombing and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,812 people, including 4,324 children.Some 50,000 people fled south on Wednesday, UN and Israeli officials said, and thousands more followed on Thursday.Some of those fleeing the war have described seeing decomposing bodies and Israeli tanks along Salah al-Din road, designated as a safe road. In one video, posted on the messaging app Telegram on Tuesday, a woman talked about bodies on the highway. She said she had been looking for her son near the Netzarim junction and described finding his body lying in the road among others.Israeli and Hamas forces were locked in heavy, close-quarters fighting in Gaza, with Israel saying a 10-hour battle had toppled a Hamas “stronghold”. Hamas released images of its fighters, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and assault rifles, clashing with Israeli soldiers backed by armoured vehicles in the ruins of the besieged territory’s north.The Israeli military said its operations in the heart of Gaza City, near Al-Shifa hospital, had targeted Hamas’s “central intelligence headquarters” and weapons-making facilities. This area was heavily bombed from the air for days. Now it’s being bombed from sea and by artillery units on the ground. Israel said dozens of militants were killed while adding the overall death toll for Israel’s troops in the ground offensive had risen to 35. The intense combat and the densely populated coastal territory being effectively sealed off have led to increasingly dire conditions for civilians.At least 15 Palestinians were killed, and 16 were wounded in multiple Israeli raids on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said Israeli forces shot at one of its ambulances while it was attempting to reach an injured person. At least seven Palestinians have been killed when Israeli jets bombed several homes in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, an Al Jazeera correspondent reported. Oda Bikhet, a witness to the consequences of the latest bombardment in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, recounted the human toll. “All of a sudden, an air strike hit the area, and we went out to check only to find children injured,” he said. “One child lost his arm, another lost an eye. Another old person was injured.”French President Emmanuel Macron urged nations to “work towards a ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas, as he opened a conference in Paris on Gaza aid. France’s foreign ministry said the Paris talks would include work on donations of goods such as food, fuel and medical supplies, financial support and humanitarian access.Gaza’s southern Rafah crossing with Egypt reopened Thursday to allow a limited number of wounded people and foreigners to flee the war, a Palestinian official told AFP. That struggle with the crossing was brought into focus by Ahmad Mhanna, a doctor at Al-Awda Hospital in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza, who said the facility’s operations were severely curtailed due to generator fuel shortages.“Inside the operation room of Al-Awda hospital work is ongoing, but using primitive means, as the doctors are using headlamps and trying to perform surgical interventions with local anesthesia,” Mhanna said.The climbing death toll in the territory meant that Palestinians were having to bury their dead in makeshift cemeteries. “We bury the dead in football fields and other vacant lots because the proper burial grounds are full,” said Shihteh Nasser, 48, who had helped in the burials. Bodies have piled up outside hospitals, on roads and in parks, in refrigerated trucks and even in a repurposed ice cream van.The armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, in Gaza, has released a video of two Israeli hostages — an elderly woman and a boy.Volker Türk, the UN commissioner for human rights, last night said both Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes. He cited Hamas’s continued holding of hostages and Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians as examples.

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