ISRAELI troops have battled Hamas militants in a packed urban refugee camp as they expanded operations across northern Gaza, where residents have been without electricity, water or access to humanitarian aid for several weeks.

The front line of the war, now in its seventh week, has shifted to the Jabaliya camp, a dense warren of concrete buildings near Gaza City that houses refugees.

Israel has been bombarding the area for weeks, and the military said Hamas fighters have regrouped there and in other eastern districts after being pushed out of much of Gaza City.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said late on Monday that Israeli forces had a “full grasp” on Jabaliya and were starting to dismantle a Hamas brigade there. It was not possible to independently confirm details of the fighting.

Footage released by the military in recent days shows soldiers and tanks operating in dense urban neighbourhoods where nearly every building appears to be damaged or destroyed.

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It is unclear how many people remain in the north but the UN agency for Palestinian refugees estimates that some 160,000 people are still in its shelters there, even though it is no longer able to provide services.

Some 1.7 million Palestinians, about three quarters of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes.

Hundreds of thousands of people have packed into UN-run schools and other facilities across southern Gaza that now serve as shelters. As they have overflowed, people have been forced to sleep on the streets outside, with little shelter from winter rain that has hit the region in recent days.

Across Gaza, there are shortages of food, water and fuel for generators to power basic infrastructure. There has been a territory-wide blackout since Israel cut off fuel imports at the start of the war.

Israel continues to strike what it says are militant targets across Gaza, including in the southern evacuation zone, often killing women and children, and officials have said it may soon expand its operations in the south.

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the north had sheltered in hospitals, but those have steadily been emptied out as the fighting has reached their gates, and most are no longer operational.

Marwan Abdallah, a medical worker at the Indonesian hospital near Jabaliya, said heavy fighting outside its gates on Tuesday prevented ambulances from bringing wounded people in for treatment.

“The situation is worsening hour by hour,” he said.

Palestinian officials said an Israeli shell struck the hospital early on Monday, killing 12 people. Israel denied shelling the hospital but said its troops returned fire on militants who targeted them from inside the 3.5-acre compound.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said roughly 200 wounded patients and their companions were evacuated from the hospital to southern Gaza on Monday in a rescue effort coordinated by the UN and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Between 400 and 500 wounded remain at Indonesia Hospital, Mr Ashraf told Al-Jazeera television. Some 2000 displaced Palestinians are also sheltering there.

Meanwhile, Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be paired with a temporary ceasefire and the entry of more humanitarian aid.

Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa.