CAIRO (Reuters) - Israeli forces pounded central Gaza anew on Sunday, a day after killing 274 Palestinians during a hostage rescue raid, and tanks advanced into further areas of Rafah in a bid to seal off part of the southern city, residents and Hamas media said.

Palestinians remained in shock over Saturday's death toll, the worst over a 24-hour period of the Gaza war for months and including many women and children, Palestinian medics said.

In an update on Sunday, Gaza's health ministry said 274 Palestinians were killed - up from 210 it reported on Saturday - and 698 were injured when Israeli special force commandos stormed into the densely populated Al-Nuseirat camp to rescue four hostages held since October by Hamas militants.

Israel's military said a special forces officer was killed in exchanges of fire with militants emerging from cover in residential blocks, and that it knew of "under 100" Palestinians killed, though not how many of them were militants or civilians.

On Sunday, three Palestinians were killed and several hurt in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Al-Bureij in the central Gaza Strip, while tanks shelled parts of nearby Al-Maghazi and Al-Nuseirat. All are built-up, historic refugee camps.

The Israeli military said in a statement its forces were continuing operations east of Bureij and the city of Deir al-Balah in the centre of the coastal enclave, killing several Palestinian gunmen and destroying militant infrastructure.

Israel sent forces into Rafah in May in it called a mission to wipe out Hamas' last intact combat units after eight months of war in which Israeli forces have bombed much of the rest of Gaza to rubble while advancing against fierce resistance.

Israeli tank forces have since seized Gaza's entire border strip with Egypt running through Rafah to the Mediterranean coast and invaded several districts of the city, prompting around one million displaced people who had been sheltering in Rafah to flee elsewhere.


On Sunday, tanks advanced into two new districts in an apparent effort to complete the encirclement of the entire eastern side of Rafah, touching off clashes with dug-in Hamas-led armed groups, according to residents trapped in their homes.

As of June 5, all but around 100,000 displaced people who took refuge in eastern Rafah after fleeing Israeli offensives further north in Gaza had left, according to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

"All UNRWA shelters in Rafah have been vacated. Many of the people who were based in Rafah have fled up the coast seeking safer locations in both Khan Younis and the middle area (of Gaza)," UNRWA said in a statement.

Palestinian medics said an Israeli airstrike on a house in Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah killed two people.

The Israeli military said troops of its 162nd division were raiding some districts of Rafah where they had located "numerous additional terror tunnel shafts, mortars, and (other) weapons" belonging to Palestinian Islamist militants.

Hamas precipitated the war with a lightning cross-border attack into Israel last Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. About half the hostages were freed during a brief November truce.

Israel's ensuing air and ground war in Gaza has killed at least 37,084 Palestinians, the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said in its Sunday update. The ministry says thousands more dead are feared buried under the rubble.

Attempts by the United States and regional countries to broker a deal that would release all remaining hostages in return for a ceasefire have repeatedly stumbled on Israeli and Hamas intransigence over terms for an end to the war.

Gaza's conflict has destabilised the wider Middle East, drawing in Hamas' main backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah which has been clashing with Israel along its northern border for months, raising fears of all-out war.

(Reporting and writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Mark Heinrich)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi