Israel, Hamas engage in fierce clashes in southern Gaza

0
811
Smoke rises in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Bassam Masoud and Ibraheemabu Mustafa Reuters

Israeli troops and Hamas militants were locked in fierce ground combat in Gaza on Wednesday after the Israelis, fighting their way through the devastated Palestinian enclave, reached the heart of the southern city of Khan Younis.

Israeli warplanes also bombarded targets in one of the heaviest phases of warfare in the two months since the Hamas-Israel war began.

Palestinian medics said hospitals were overflowing with dead and wounded civilians, many of them women and children, and supplies were running out. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes were seeking shelter in a decreasing number of safe areas.

Israeli troops and tanks have pushed through to the southern part of the Gaza Strip after largely gaining control of the north in a campaign to eliminate Hamas. They have encircled Khan Younis in a surge of violence since a truce collapsed last week.

Israel said its forces were fighting fierce battles on Wednesday and had struck hundreds of targets in the enclave, including a militant cell near a school in the north.

Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, also said its fighters were engaged in clashes with Israeli forces.

Hamas said it had killed or wounded eight Israeli soldiers and destroyed 24 military vehicles on Tuesday. Israel said 84 of its soldiers had been killed since the ground operation began five weeks ago.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Hamas fighters were using improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel mines in a shift of tactics as the fighting moved to close ground combat.

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.

Hamas’ media office said on Tuesday at least 16,248 people including 7,112 children and 4,885 women had been killed in Gaza since then. Those figures were not immediately verified by the Gaza health ministry.

Reflecting global concern over the plight of Palestinian civilians, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said: “The pulverising of Gaza now ranks amongst the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time and age.”

The Israeli military said on Wednesday it was going to “great lengths” to avoid harming non-combatants. It said Hamas was using the civilian population as human shields and preventing civilians from moving to safe places, an accusation denied by the militant group.

NOWHERE TO GO

Fuel and medical supplies have reached critically low levels at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza, and hundreds of patients need emergency care, Medecins Sans Frontieres said.

MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial said the hospital has been receiving on average 150 to 200 war-wounded patients daily since Dec. 1.

“There are 700 patients admitted in the hospital now, with new patients arriving all the time,” she said.

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.

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

But 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.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, 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,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “It needs to go up, and we’ve made that clear to the government of Israel.”

In Israel, police were investigating alleged sexual crimes during the Oct. 7 killing spree. The justice ministry has said victims were tortured, abused, raped, burned alive, and dismembered.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the abuse claims in a meeting with families of returned hostages that some participants described as angry because of frustration over the government’s handling of the situation.

Israel says some women and children remain in Hamas’ hands. During the pause in fighting, Hamas returned more than 100 hostages, but 138 captives remain.

A Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said there would be no more hostages released until Israel’s “aggression” stopped.

Violence has also flared in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In the latest incident there, two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli troops in the city of Tubas, the official Palestinian WAFA news agency reported on Wednesday.

The U.S. has imposed visa bans on people involved in violence in the West Bank after appeals for Israel to do more to prevent attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers.

[do_widget_area inner_adsbar]

Leave a reply