1 of 4 | Israeli soldiers walk toward a 155mm self-propelled Howitzer in a staging position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Israeli forces continue to fight inside the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and artillery. Photo by Jim Hollander/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The Israeli military confirmed Tuesday that it conducted an airstrike that hit the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, which Palestinian officials late Tuesday said killed 52.
That strike preceded news of Israel taking control of Hamas military strongholds in that region and reportedly killing Ebrahim Biari, the head of the Jabalya battalion of Hamas and one of the leaders of the October 7 massacre.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the stronghold was used by Biari to train for terrorist attacks.
Qatar's Foreign Ministry warned that attacks on civilians, such as those at the Jabalya refugee camp, could hurt ongoing mediation efforts, calling the airstrike "a new massacre against the defenseless Palestinian people."
Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Richard Hecht told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the strike targeted a Hamas commander who had been "hiding as they do, behind civilians."
After Palestinian officials initially said the airstrike killed "hundreds," ABC News reported later in the day that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry issued a statement in which it said 52 Palestinians were killed in the strike on the camp.
According to local authorities, at least 20 homes were destroyed in the attack, and images posted online showed massive craters and destroyed buildings in Jabalya.
The Jordanian government quickly condemned the attack.
"I call on EU's Josep Borrell to urge a clear EU stand against Israeli crimes in Gaza, including inhumane attack on Jabalya ...," Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minster Ayman Safadi posted on X.
Borrell is the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs.
One witness described in a CNN report how he ran to the area to help. Mohammad al Aswad said his family was safe but the scene was "horrific" as he searched for survivors.
"Children were carrying other injured children and running, with gray dust filling the air," Aswad said. "Bodies were hanging on the rubble, many of them unrecognized. Some were bleeding and others were burnt."
The Israeli military said early Tuesday its forces were engaged in "fierce battles against Hamas terrorists deep in Gaza."
The military said it had hit 300 targets overnight, including "military compounds inside underground tunnels belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization."
At least two 20-year-old Israeli soldiers are confirmed to have been killed while fighting in Gaza.
Earlier Tuesday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health called for increased aid amid Israel's expanded ground operations.
Prior to the Jabalya strike, the health ministry had said 8,525 people had been killed since Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza after an Oct. 7 surprise attack by the militant group killed 1,400 Israelis.
It said 216 people had been killed from Monday to Tuesday, saying many of those killed had been displaced south of the Gaza Strip in areas Israel had designated as "safe zones."
Another 21,543 people were injured, while the health ministry said it had received reports of 2,000 missing people.
The health ministry said 15 hospitals and 32 primary care centers had been forced out of service amid the fighting and a lack of fuel.
"We appeal to our people to immediately go to donate blood in all hospitals and blood bank branches in the Gaza Strip," the ministry said. "We demand the International Committee of the Red Cross to work on providing large quantities of blood units from outside the Gaza Strip to meet the needs of hospitals."
The United Nations on Monday urged the opening of a second humanitarian border crossing to provide aid to Palestinians in need, noting that the small amounts of supplies that have maid their way through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt could not address the overwhelming need.
Juliette Touma, the communications director for the United Nations Agency for Palestinians said on Monday an agency worker, his wife, and eight children died in the Gaza Strip.
As we were preparing remarks of [Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] to the U.N. Security Council, we received the dreadful news. Our colleague Samir was killed with his wife and eight children," Touma wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
"We mourn him and his family. 64 colleagues were killed in Gaza. UNRWA will never be the same without them RIP."
Israel said on Tuesday it had expanded its ground operations and struck 300 targets, including anti-tank missile and rocket launch positions, as well as military compounds inside underground tunnels belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization.
The Israeli Defense Forces added that a fighter jet strike killed Nasim Abu Ajina, the commander of Hamas's Beit Lahia Battalion who directed the attack on Israelis on Oct. 7 in Kibbutz Erez and Moshav Netiv Ha Asara.
The IDF said Ajina in the past had been in charge of Hamas's drone and paraglider attacks.
"During the forces' ground operations, the soldiers had several engagements with terrorist cells that fired both anti-tank missiles and machine gun fire toward them," the IDF said in a statement. "The soldiers killed terrorists and directed air forces to real-time strikes on targets and terror infrastructure."
In an update, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Israel was focusing its efforts on northern Gaza, which is "the center of gravity of Hamas," but would continue operations throughout the territory.
"We are hunting their commanders, we are attacking their infrastructure," he said.
Conricus added that he believed Israel would be "ramping up the facilitation of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.
"We do understand that the situation there is difficult, but this isn't our doing and this isn't what we wanted," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said earlier that it would not agree to a humanitarian cease-fire despite calls from the U.N. and other international bodies to allow increased aid into Gaza.
"Calls for a cease-fire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism," he said.
Eight-month-old Sila Abu Amsha is rescued from under a collapsed home following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2023. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo