Israel’s military bombarded southern Gaza’s main city in what it said was the fiercest fighting since it began a ground invasion to eliminate Hamas five weeks ago, while the U.S. 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 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 camp and Hamas hotbed 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. Reuters could not reach the area nor confirm the toll.
Israel unleashed its campaign in response to an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1,200 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 7,112 children and 4,885 women had been killed in Gaza by Israel’s military since Oct. 7. Thousands more are missing and feared buried under rubble.
Those figures were not immediately verified by the Gaza health ministry.