GAZA, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Israeli troops engaged in heavy fighting with Hamas in southern Gaza on Wednesday after reaching the heart of the city of Khan Younis, forcing Palestinian civilians to seek refuge elsewhere as the number of safe areas dwindles.
Israeli warplanes also bombed targets across the densely populated coastal region in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in the two months since Israel began its military campaign to eliminate the Palestinian group.
Palestinian doctors said hospitals were overflowing with dead and wounded, many of them women and children, and supplies were running low. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people driven out of the north sought refuge in the dwindling places in the south designated as safe areas by Israel.
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief said the situation was “revealing” and there was a risk of serious rights abuses being committed by both sides. The UN said it was impossible to deliver aid through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt.
After largely gaining control of northern Gaza, Israeli troops and tanks pushed further south and encircled Khan Younis after a seven-day ceasefire collapsed last week.
Israel said its forces hit hundreds of targets, including a resistance cell near a school in the north. Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said the battle was fierce.
Residents said Israeli shelling intensified overnight, killing and wounding civilians, and that tanks were battling Palestinian fighters north and east of Khan Younis.
Smoke rises over Gaza as seen from southern Israel, December 6, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
Some Palestinians described lucky escapes after their homes were destroyed in an overnight airstrike in the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.
“I swear we don’t even know how we made it out alive,” Hamdi Tanira said, describing an attack on a house where he said he and about 30 others, including 20 children, were sleeping.
“We were sleeping peacefully, not disturbing anyone,” said another survivor, Amal Mehdi. “Suddenly, the shelling hit us, you wouldn’t know where it came from, it was a miracle they got us out from under the rubble.”
A Palestinian woman stands in a damaged building as she inspects the site of Israeli raids in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: REUTERS
In northern Gaza, tanks, navy boats and warplanes pounded areas of the Jabalia refugee camp as well as roads and houses, residents and Hamas media reported.
The tanks were on the edge of the Khan Younis refugee camp, near the home of Hamas leader in Gaza Yehya Al-Sinwar, they said. It was unclear if anyone was there.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported that Hamas fighters were using improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel mines in a tactical shift as the fighting moved to close ground combat.
Israel launched its military campaign in response to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants that swept through Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.
Hamas’ media office said on Tuesday that at least 16,248 people, including 7,112 children and 4,885 women, had been killed in Gaza since then. These figures were not immediately verified by the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Israel said 84 of its soldiers had been killed since the ground operation began five weeks ago.
The few hospitals that remain open across Gaza are barely functioning. UN human rights chief Volker Turk told reporters that his colleagues had described the situation in the enclave as apocalyptic.
“Under these circumstances, there is an increased risk of atrocity crimes,” he said.
The United Nations defines “atrocity crimes” as crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined by international treaties.
Col. Moshe Tetro, an Israeli humanitarian affairs officer, said the army has told civilians in advance to move away from areas of Khan Younis where it plans to operate, using phone messages, online statements and leaflets.
The Israeli military said Hamas was using civilians as human shields and preventing civilians from moving to safe places, a charge denied by the group.
Gazans say there is no safe place, with the rest of the cities and shelters overrun and Israel shelling areas where it tells people to go.
Displaced persons sheltering near the border said they feared Israel would try to force them into Egypt, but that they would not go.
“This is the final destination, if they want to deport us by force, we won’t leave. Rather die in our place,” said a man who was sleeping rough with his companions. They didn’t even have tents.
Israel says some women and children hostages remain in the hands of Hamas and its goal is to find and free them. During the ceasefire, Hamas returned more than 100 hostages, but 138 remain.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has urged Israel to do more to allow fuel and other aid into Gaza and reduce civilian harm.
The UN chief said the only way to end the conflict is to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and opt for a two-state solution with Israel and an independent Palestine.
a href=”https://tribune.com.pk/story/2449088/israeli-forces-battle-hamas-in-southern-gaza-humanitarian-concerns-grow”>Source link