Israel says it has dismantled half of Hamas fighting force in Rafah

The Israeli military says it has dismantled about half of Hamas's fighting force in Rafah, located in the southern Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said on Monday they have killed at least 550 combatants in their ground operation in Rafah since early May.

The IDF said they have almost completely disbanded half of the four Hamas battalions operating in Rafah.

The IDF says many fighters of the remaining two battalions have fled to places Israel designates as humanitarian areas.

The military added that it will be possible to achieve the goals of the operation in Rafah within a few weeks.

Before the Israeli ground operation began, nearly 1.5 million people were taking shelter in Rafah. Now the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, estimates the number stands at 65,000.

UNRWA says people in Gaza have been "forced to flee again and again." The UN agency calls for a ceasefire as early as possible.

Civilian casualties continue to increase elsewhere in Gaza.

Local media there reported on Tuesday that at least 17 people were killed in heavy Israeli bombardments in central Gaza overnight.

Health authorities in Gaza said on Monday that the number of deaths in the enclave has risen to 37,347 since fighting began last October.