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Eight Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Thursday, June 13, 2024.
Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Copyright Ohad Zwigenberg/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Ohad Zwigenberg/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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Israel's military said Saturday that eight soldiers were killed in southern Gaza in the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

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The troops were killed in an explosion, the army said, without elaborating. The deaths will likely fuel calls for a cease-fire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military.

In January, 21 Israeli troops were kille in a single attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered an end to government subsidies for many ultra-Orthodox men who don’t serve in the army. A new draft law hasn't been passed, but the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week voted in favor of extending exemptions for religious men. Although the vote was only procedural, it caused an uproar by being approved during a war in which hundreds of soldiers have died and many others remain inside Gaza or on the front lines against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Yoav Gallant, Israel's Defence Minister and member of the country's War Cabinet, has insisted that all sectors of Israeli society should contribute equally during its war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's coalition government contains a powerful bloc of ultra-Orthodox parties that have been long-time partners of Netanyahu. If these parties leave the government, the country would be forced into new elections, with Netanyahu trailing significantly in the polls amid the war.

In Tel Aviv, anti-government protests have been ongoing for months, with many demonstrators calling for the immediate return of the hostages, along with Netanyahu's resignation.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who don’t give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven about 80% of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fuelling widespread hunger.

Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. More than 100 hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.

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