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Israeli strikes kill nine as Biden calls Israel’s approach to war ‘over the top’

At least nine people, including children and women, were killed in Israeli airstrikes overnight into Friday in the central area of the Gaza Strip and in the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The overnight airstrikes came hours after US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he considers Israel’s conduct of the war to be “over the top”.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, left Israel on Thursday as the divide grows between the two close allies on the way forward.

“I am of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” Mr Biden said after delivering remarks on a special counsel report on his handling of classified documents.

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US President Joe Biden speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Biden added that he continues to push for an extended pause in fighting in Gaza to facilitate the release of the dozens of remaining hostages that were captured during Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

Hamas, however, has demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and end the war as part of a hostage deal. Mr Netanyahu has refused to agree to those terms.

But Mr Biden said he still is hopeful a deal can be worked out that might open a path to ending the war.

“I am pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Mr Biden said.

“I’ve been working tirelessly on this deal. How can I say this without revealing … to lead to a sustained pause in the fighting in, and the actions taking place, in the Gaza Strip.”

The overnight strikes hit a residential building in Rafah and a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in the central town of Zuwaida.

The dead and wounded were taken to nearby hospitals, where the bodies were seen by journalists from The Associated Press.

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Palestinians collect their belongings from their damaged house after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip (Fatima Shbair/AP)

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive towards the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing UN-run shelters.

Israeli ground forces are still focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned this week that Rafah would be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Mr Netanyahu’s words have also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said.

The war began with Hamas’s October 7 assault into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.

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