Israel’s military bombarded southern Gaza’s main city in what it said was the fiercest fighting since it declared war on the territory five weeks ago, despite repeated calls from the US and international rights groups urging Israel to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.
Israel reported its forces, backed by war planes, on Tuesday reached the heart of Khan Younis in southern Gaza and also surrounded the city. Hamas’ armed wing, the al Qassam Brigades, said its fighters engaged in violent clashes with Israelis.
“We are in the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation,” the commander of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, General Yaron Finkelman, said in a statement.
The combat was also the most intense since a truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed last week. Israeli forces also fought in Jabalia, a large urban refugee in the north next to Gaza City, and in Shuja’iyya to the east, Finkelman said.
Hamas’ armed wing said it killed or wounded eight Israeli troops and destroyed 24 military vehicles on Tuesday. An Israeli military website listed two troop deaths for Tuesday and 83 since the ground operation began.
Gaza health officials said many civilians were killed in an Israeli strike on houses in Deir al-Balah, north of Khan Younis. Dr Eyad Al-Jabri, head of the Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital there, told Reuters at least 45 people were killed.
Israel unleashed its ruthless campaign in response to an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas fighters, in which 1,200 people died and some 240 hostages were taken, Israeli officials say.
Palestinian media said on Tuesday Israel has killed at least 16,248 people including 7,112 children and 4,885 women since Oct. 7. Thousands more are missing and feared buried under rubble.
No where safe to go
Since the truce collapsed, Israel has been posting an online map to tell Gazans which parts of the enclave to evacuate to avoid attacks. Khan Younis’ eastern quarter was marked on Monday, and many of its hundreds of thousands of residents took flight on foot.
Israel had in previous weeks ordered hundreds of thousands of Gazans to leave the north and evacuate to Khan Younis neighbor – a move that human rights group heavily condemned.
Gazans say there is no safe place, with remaining towns and shelters already overwhelmed, and Israel continuing to bomb the areas where it is telling people to go.
At Khan Younis’ main Nasser hospital, the wounded arrived by ambulance, car, flatbed truck and donkey cart after what survivors described as a strike on a school being used as a shelter for the displaced.
Inside a ward, almost every inch of blood-splattered floor space was taken up by the wounded including small children, with medics hurrying from patient to patient while relatives wailed.
Two girls were being treated, still covered in dust from the collapse of the house that had buried their family.
“My parents are under the rubble,” sobbed one child. “I want my mum, I want my mum, I want my family.”
Amid continued international criticism of Gaza’s plight, the United States, Israel’s close ally, reiterated on Tuesday that Israel needed to do more to allow fuel and other aid into Gaza and reduce harm to civilians. Despite the mounting death toll, it alleged Israel was now showing some receptiveness to the calls.
“The level of assistance that’s getting in is not sufficient,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press briefing. “It needs to go up, and we’ve made that clear to the government of Israel.”
Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Tuesday there would be no more hostages released until Israel’s aggression stopped.
Separately, the US imposed visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after appeals for Israel to do more to prevent attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers.
Two Palestinian teenagers were killed by the Israeli gunfire in Tubas, West Bank, the official Palestinian WAFA news agency reported on Wednesday. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday condemned settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.