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Fighting rages across Gaza as UN chief urges 'immediate ceasefire'

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories — Israel struck Gaza on Sunday and troops were battling militants in several areas of the Palestinian territory after an Israeli evacuation order sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing from Rafah.

More than seven months into the Israel-Hamas war, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate surge in humanitarian aid" into the besieged Gaza Strip.

"But a ceasefire will only be the start," Guterres told a donor conference in Kuwait. "It will be a long road back from the devastation and trauma of this war."

As Egyptian, Qatari and US mediation efforts towards a truce appeared to stall, US President Joe Biden said on Saturday a ceasefire could be achieved "tomorrow" if Hamas released the hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack that sparked the war.

AFP correspondents, witnesses and medics said Israeli air strikes pounded parts of northern, central and southern Gaza during the night and into Sunday morning.

In Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city which sits on the Egyptian border, the Kuwaiti hospital said on Sunday it had received the bodies of "18 martyrs" killed in Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours.

Gaza's civil defence agency reported at least two fatalities, a father and son, both doctors, in a strike on Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

Months after Israel said it had dismantled Hamas's command structure in northern Gaza, which was devastated by intense violence in the early stages of the war, fighting has resumed in recent days in Jabalia refugee camp and Gaza City's Zeitun neighbourhood.

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late on Saturday that "in recent weeks we have identified attempts by Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities in Jabalia, and we are acting to destroy these attempts". He also said there was an operation in Zeitun.

AFP correspondents reported intense clashes and heavy gunfire from Israeli helicopters in the Zeitun area early on Sunday, with medics and witnesses saying troops were engaged in combat in Zeitun as well as Jabalia.

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on