ISRAEL bombed targets in overcrowded Rafah early on Friday, just hours after US officials warned against expanding the Gaza ground offensive.

It is thought that more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have sought refuge in the city. 

However, airstrikes overnight and into Friday are thought to have hit two residential buildings, killing eight Palestinians, according to hospital officials.

A third strike targeted a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in central Gaza, killing at least four people, AP journalists who saw bodies arriving at hospitals reported.

The airstrikes come just hours after US president Joe Biden (below) said he considers Israel’s conduct of the war to be “over the top”.

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Meanwhile, US secretary of state Antony Blinken left Israel on Thursday as divisions between the two allies grow.

Biden had said: “I am of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.”

He added that he continues to push for an extended pause in fighting in Gaza to facilitate the release of hostages that were captured during Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

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Hamas, however, has also demanded that Israel releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and end the war as part of a hostage deal – which Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to do.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3m population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive towards the border with Egypt.

Unable to leave, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing UN-run shelters.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that the death toll from the war has now surpassed 27,840 people.

Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also prompted an unusual public backlash in Washington.

“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said.

Going ahead with such an offensive now, “with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster”.

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John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesperson, said an Israel ground offensive in Rafah is “not something we would support”.

The comments signalled intensifying US friction with Netanyahu, who pushed a message of “total victory” in the war this week, at a time when Blinken was in Israel to press for a ceasefire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of Hamas-held hostages.

The National: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces are focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Netanyahu (above) had repeatedly said Rafah would be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Netanyahu’s words also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.