Khan Younis has also been a haven for civilians displaced by the early phases of the war in the northern part of the Strip. On Wednesday, thousands of residents and displaced people were warned by a second day of Israeli texts and leaflets, setting many on the move for the second or third time.
Dozens were killed in an Israeli strike on a school in the city Tuesday, witnesses told The Washington Post. Gaza Health Ministry officials said they were still tabulating the number of casualties from airstrikes there and other areas overnight, and that many of the dead remained buried under rubble. More than 16,000 Gazans have been killed since Israeli attacks began in response to a cross-border assault by Hamas on Oct. 7, they said.
International outrage continued to mount over the climbing civilian death toll, but Israeli officials gave no sign of letting up. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brushed aside criticism of Israel’s warfighting methods Tuesday, saying that “crushing force” would be deployed in pursuit of eliminating Hamas.
“We are on the right path,” he told reporters. Netanyahu also indicated that Israel was prepared to keep its military inside Gaza indefinitely after the war, disregarding suggestions from Washington and other powers that international or regional peacekeepers could step in.
“No international force can be responsible for this,” he said. “I’m not ready to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”
Israeli forces carried out ground and air assaults in the Jabalya area in northern Gaza, as well as in Shejaiya to the east of Gaza City. The Gaza Health Ministry said Wednesday that Kamal Adwan Hospital, one of the last remaining health facilities in the northern part of the enclave, has ceased to function following Israeli bombardments in the area.
An estimated 1.9 million Palestinians have sought shelter in the south, more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.2 million population. As more displaced families are corralled into the far southern area around Rafah, at the sealed Egyptian border, officials warned that shelters are full and aid supplies are inadequate. The Israel Defense Forces said it instituted a four-hour humanitarian pause in the Rafah district midday Wednesday.
“The catastrophic situation we see unfolding in the Gaza Strip was entirely foreseeable and preventable,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Wednesday at a news conference. “My humanitarian colleagues have described the situation as apocalyptic.”
The surge of refugees was creating dire conditions Wednesday, according to Hana Awad, a journalist and mother of three from Gaza City who was sheltering there.
“All the basic food necessities are missing. Anything that’s related to clothes or mattresses is missing,” she said in a voice message sent to The Post. “The displaced people who came in the last two days — they spread nylon on the ground [for makeshift tents]. Some are in cars. Some of them are in the street, literally on the sidewalks. There’s rain. Life is really harsh and hard.”
Moving toward Rafah is not an option for many.
“The population density is too high. There is not even a place in the street for us to live,” 41-year old Fadi Ahmed told The Post by phone from Khan Younis.
His family took flight for the second time since combat resumed Friday. When airstrikes hit their neighborhood early Tuesday, he and his wife and children tried to walk to the center of Khan Younis to escape the fighting.
The Israelis “said that hostilities will be concentrated in the east, but we noticed tanks were heading toward the city center,” Ahmed said. “We don’t know which way to go now.”
Israel’s top commander, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, described the renewed combat as the military’s third phase of operations in Gaza as it expands farther into the south after aerial and ground attacks in the north. Israel has pledged not to permanently halt combat operations until Hamas is “eliminated” as a military and political entity.
Israel Defense Forces troops have fully encircled Khan Younis, Eylon Levy, the spokesman for prime minister’s office, said Wednesday. “And we are working to destroy the terror infrastructure that it has built above and below ground in civilian areas.”
Levy said the IDF has killed half of Hamas’s battalion commanders, including most of the senior leadership of the group’s northern Gaza brigade. Overall, Israel said it has killed more than 6,000 Hamas militants, although analysts said the toll remains far short of a killing blow to Hamas, which is estimated to field at least 30,000 fighters.
Israel’s northern border also has continued to present a threat, with IDF and Hezbollah forces exchanging fire. The Lebanese army said three of its own soldiers were killed Tuesday under Israeli shelling.
In Israel, the families of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza protested in Tel Aviv, demanding that their loved ones be brought home. Divisions have widened between those calling for a halt in the fighting while more hostages are released and those who see the war as the best way to pressure Hamas. Anger erupted at a meeting with Netanyahu on Tuesday night, with some family members storming out.
“We asked if returning the captives is the primary goal now, and I didn’t leave with a clear answer,” Bashir Alziadana, whose two brothers are hostages, told Haaretz.
Released hostages at the meeting related harrowing details of their time in Hamas hands, including beatings and sexual assault of male and female captives.