Israeli forces were encircling southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis on Wednesday, battling Hamas through streets and buildings in some of the most intense combat of the two-month war.
The latest toll from Gaza’s health ministry said 16,248 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, had been killed by brutal Israeli attacks.
The focus of the conflict has shifted to the besieged territory’s south following fierce fighting and bombardment that reduced much of the north to rubble and forced nearly two million people to flee their homes.
Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen on Tuesday near southern Gaza’s city of Khan Yunis, forcing already displaced civilians to pack up and flee again.
Sources in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian resistance group, told arab media their fighters were battling Israeli troops early Wednesday in a bid to prevent them from breaking into Khan Yunis and surrounding areas.
According to the Palestinian government media office, dozens of people were killed and injured in heavy strikes in areas east of Khan Yunis.
Meanwhile, areas in the central and northern Gaza Strip were still coming under bombardment, according to Hamas.
The Hamas-run health ministry said air strikes on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed six people and injured 14 others.
As the war expands, Israel has told people to move even further south, sparking “panic, fear and anxiety”, according to Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
People were being pushed into an area that is less than one-third of the Gaza Strip, with roads to the south clogged, he said.
International aid groups have condemned the succession of orders to flee from one area to another, saying that civilians were running out of options.
Israeli troops raided Faraa refugee camp in the north of the territory early Wednesday, sparking clashes that killed two people, one of them aged 16, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa.
The latest deaths added to more than 250 people killed in the West Bank since October, according to Palestinian authorities.