Scores dead as Israel storms southern Gaza’s main city
Bassam Massoud and Ibraheem Abu Mustafa |
Israeli forces have bombarded southern Gaza’s main city in what they called the fiercest fighting in five weeks of ground operations against Hamas militants, as the United States again pressed Israel to minimise Palestinian civilian casualties.
Israel reported its forces, backed by war planes, on Tuesday reached the heart of Khan Younis in southern Gaza and 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 the most intense since a truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed last week.
Israeli forces also fought in Jabalia, a large urban refugee camp and Hamas hotbed in the north, 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 83 troop deaths 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.
Reuters could not reach the area nor confirm the toll.
Israel unleashed its campaign in response to an attack on October 7 by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.
Israeli police are investigating alleged sexual crimes and Israel’s justice ministry has said “victims were tortured, physically abused, raped, burned alive, and dismembered”.
Hamas’ media office said on Tuesday at least 16,248 people including 7112 children and 4885 women had been killed in Gaza by Israel’s military since October 7.
Thousands more are missing and feared buried under rubble.
Those figures were not immediately verified by the Gaza health ministry.
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.
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.
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.
Amid continued international criticism of Gaza’s plight, the US reiterated on Tuesday that Israel needed to do more to allow fuel and other aid into Gaza and reduce harm to civilians.
“The level of assistance that’s getting in is not sufficient,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at a press briefing.
“It needs to go up, and we’ve made that clear to the government of Israel.”
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Hamas had repeatedly raped women and mutilated their bodies during its assault on southern Israel, citing survivors and witnesses.
“It is appalling,” he told a political fundraiser in Boston.
In a statement on Telegram, Hamas denounced Biden’s accusations as false and said he was joining Israel’s effort to cover up war crimes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the claims of rape and other abuse in a meeting with families of returned hostages on Tuesday.
“I heard stories that broke my heart … I heard and you also heard, about sexual assault and cases of brutal rape unlike anything,” he said at a press conference.
Israel says some women and children remain in Hamas’ hands.
During the pause in fighting, Hamas returned more than 100 hostages while 138 captives remain.
Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Tuesday there would be no more hostages released until Israel’s aggression stopped.Reuters