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Hamas Shows Signs of Resurgence in Parts of Gaza

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Hamas has begun to resurface in areas where Israel withdrew the bulk of its forces a month ago, deploying police officers and making partial salary payments to some of its civil servants in Gaza City in recent days, four residents and a senior official in the militant group said Saturday.

Signs of a Hamas resurgence in Gaza’s largest city underscore the group’s resilience despite Israel’s deadly air and ground campaign over the past four months. Israel has said it’s determined to crush Hamas and prevent it from returning to power in Gaza, an enclave it has ruled since 2007.

In recent days, Israeli forces renewed strikes in the western and northwestern parts of Gaza City, including in areas where some of the salary distributions were reported to have taken place.

Four Gaza City residents told The Associated Press that in recent days, uniformed and plainclothes police officers deployed near police headquarters and other government offices, including near Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. The residents said they saw the return of civil servants and subsequent Israeli airstrikes near the makeshift offices.

The return of police marks an attempt to reinstate order in the devastated city after Israel withdrew a significant number of troops from northern Gaza last month, a Hamas official told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The official said the group’s leaders had given directions to reestablish order in parts of the north where Israeli forces had withdrawn, including by helping prevent the looting of shops and houses abandoned by residents who had heeded repeated Israeli evacuation orders and headed to the southern half of Gaza.

During Israel’s ground offensive, many homes and buildings were left half-standing or reduced to piles of scrap, rubble and dust.

Saeed Abdel-Bar, a resident of Gaza City, said a cousin received funds from a makeshift Hamas office near the hospital that was set up to distribute $200 payouts to government employees, including police officers and municipal workers.

Since seizing control of Gaza nearly 17 years ago, Hamas has been operating a government bureaucracy with tens of thousands of civil servants, including teachers, traffic cops and civil police who operate separately from the group’s secretive military wing.

The partial salary payments of $200 for at least some government employees signal that Israel has not delivered a knockout blow to Hamas, even as it claims to have killed more than 9,000 Hamas fighters.

Ahmed Abu Hadrous, a Gaza City resident, said Israeli warplanes struck the area where the makeshift office is located multiple times earlier this week, including Saturday morning.

The strikes come roughly a month after Israeli military leaders said they had broken up the command structure of Hamas battalions in the north, but that individual fighters were continuing to carry out guerrilla-style attacks.

Meanwhile, combat continued in southern Gaza on Saturday.

At least 11 people were injured when Israel’s military fired smoke bombs at displaced people sheltering at the headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent in the southern city of Khan Younis, the organization said. It didn’t elaborate, and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.

The injuries followed a siege that the Israeli military has laid on the Red Crescent’s facilities for 12 days, the organization said.

The charity also said it documented the killing of 43 people, including three staff members, inside the buildings by Israeli fire in those 12 days. Another 153 were injured, it said.

At least 17 people, including women and children, were killed in two separate airstrikes overnight in Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, according to the registration office at a hospital where the bodies were taken.

The first strike hit a residential building east of Rafah, killing at least 13 people from the Hijazi family. The dead included four women and three children, hospital officials said. The second strike struck a house in the Jeneina area of Rafah, killing at least two men and two women from the Hams family.

“Two children are still under the rubble, and we don’t, still we don’t know anything about them,” relative Ahmad Hijazi said.

The 17 bodies were taken to the Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the main health facility in Rafah, and were seen by an AP journalist.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Saturday that 107 people were killed over the preceding 24-hour period, bringing the wartime total to 27,238. More than 66,000 people have been wounded.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge in Rafah and surrounding areas. A United Nations official on Friday said Rafah was becoming a “pressure cooker of despair.”

Israel’s defense minister warned earlier this week that Israel might expand combat to Rafah after focusing for the last few weeks on Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza. While the statement has alarmed aid officials and international diplomats, Israel would risk significantly disrupting strategic relationships with the United States and Egypt if it were to send troops into Rafah.

International mediators continue to work to close wide gaps between Israel and Hamas over a proposed cease-fire deal put forth this week, nearly four month since Hamas and other militants captured about 250 hostages during their deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war.

Hamas continue to hold dozens of captives, after more than 100 were released during a one-week truce in November. Those releases were in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

The conflict has leveled vast swaths of the tiny coastal enclave, displaced 85% of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.

Meanwhile, United States — which has negotiated tenants of the deal along with Israel, Egypt and Qatar — launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard late Friday, in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend.