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8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said Saturday that eight soldiers were killed in southern Gaza in the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

The troops were killed in an explosion, the army said. In January, 21 Israeli troops were killed in a single attack by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

The deaths will likely fuel calls for a cease-fire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military.

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.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense 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 terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s coalition government contains a powerful bloc of ultra-Orthodox parties that have been longtime 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 launched its campaign after Hamas and other terrorists 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.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, which doesn’t give the breakdown of civilians and fighters.

Months of cease-fire negotiations have failed to find common ground between Israel and Hamas. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Hamas proposed changes to a U.S.-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.

Meanwhile, violence has flared in the West Bank since the war erupted. On Saturday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces near the northern city of Nablus, the Ramallah-based Health Ministry said. The Israeli army didn’t immediately respond to request for comment about the shooting.

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