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Battles rage across Gaza ahead of rare UN vote
Israeli forces maintained a relentless bombardment and ground invasion across Gaza on Friday, two months after Hamas's deadly attack sparked a war that has decimated the Palestinian territory, triggering an extraordinary UN bid for a ceasefire.
The fighting has left 17,487 people dead in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas over its unprecedented attack on October 7 when militants broke through Gaza's militarised border to kill around 1,200 people and seize hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, according to Israeli figures.
Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to a wasteland. The UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, facing dire shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine, and the growing threat of disease.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the release of Israeli hostages, but said "the brutality perpetrated by Hamas can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people".
The UN Security Council was meeting after Guterres took the unprecedented step of invoking the UN Charter's Article 99, allowing him to convene the council for "any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security".
Guterres says he is wants a "humanitarian ceasefire" to prevent "a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians" and the entire Middle East.
The World Health Organization reinforced his warning.
"People are starting to cut down telephone poles to have a little bit of firewood to keep warm or maybe cook, if they have anything available," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.
"Civilisation is about to break down."
- Battles on multiple fronts -
The Hamas health ministry reported 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City on Friday, and dozens more in Jabalia and the main southern city of Khan Yunis.
Israel's military told residents in several districts of Gaza City to move west, and released footage of naval forces firing from the Mediterranean towards the land.
It said "numerous" militants in Khan Yunis had been killed in "extensive battles", with around 450 targets struck over 24 hours.
Israel has so far lost 91 soldiers in Gaza.
"May God punish those who can see our suffering and remain calm," said one Gazan, Rimah Mansi, who told AFP they had lost "all those we love".
In the north, the military said it found Hamas rocket parts, launchers and other weapons as well as a one-kilometre tunnel at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza City district of Rimal.
The fighting has pushed Gazans further and further south, turning Rafah near the Egyptian border into a vast camp for many of the 1.9 million displaced.
The death toll also rose in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot dead six Palestinians on Friday, the territory's health ministry said.
The armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired more rockets towards Israeli territory.
- 'Protect civilians' -
An attack in Iraq again raised fears of wider conflict in the region, with US officials saying salvoes of rockets targeted its embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
It was the first attack against the US mission in Baghdad since the war began, though there have been dozens of rocket or drone strikes by pro-Iran groups against American or coalition forces elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated near the US embassy in Amman to denounce US support for Israel.
In a phone call Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden -- whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel -- "emphasised the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas", the White House said.
Biden also called for "corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities".
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock appealed for "Israel to adapt its military action" and allow more humanitarian aid, especially in Gaza's north.
The UN said 69 trucks carrying supplies and fuel had entered from Egypt on Thursday -- well below the average 500 daily truckloads before the war.
- Hanukkah -
Israelis remained deeply traumatised by the Hamas attack and fearful for the fate of hostages as they marked the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, which began Thursday.
A 138-branched menorah candelabrum was lit in Tel Aviv for the remaining captives.
The war has also led to deadly cross-border exchanges on the Lebanese frontier.
An AFP investigation into October 13 strikes in southern Lebanon that killed a Reuters journalist and injured six others, including two from AFP, found it involved a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this region.
The nature of the strikes and lack of military activity in the immediate vicinity of the journalists indicate the attack was deliberate and targeted, the investigation found.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the strikes merit a "war crime" investigation.
Israel's army said the strikes occurred in an "active combat zone" and were under review.