World

Israel strikes Gaza’s second largest city in new phase of the war

Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza (AP)
Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza (AP) Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza (AP)

Israel has intensified its bombardment of Gaza’s second largest city, Khan Younis, with dozens of injured people rushed to hospital as a new phase of the war continues.

Under US pressure to prevent further mass casualties, Israel said it is being more precise as it widens its offensive into southern Gaza after obliterating much of the north.

Aerial bombardment and the ground offensive have already driven three quarters of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.

Israeli in ruined house
Israeli in ruined house Hadas Kalderon is overcome by emotion in the ruins of her mother’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, Israel, after it was targeted by Hamas militants (AP)

At the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, ambulances brought dozens of injured people in throughout the night. At one point, a car pulled up and man emerged carrying a young boy in a bloody shirt whose hand had been blown off.

Satellite photos taken on Sunday showed tanks and troops massing outside Khan Younis, the latest target of the offensive, which was home to more than 400,000 people before the war.

Israel has ordered people out of nearly two dozen areas instead of the entire region, as it did in the north.

But with most of Gaza’s population already packed into the south, cramming UN shelters and family homes, there are few places left to go. Israel has barred people who fled the north earlier in the war from returning.

Palestinians say that as Israel continues to strike across the besieged territory, there are no areas where they feel safe, and many fear that if they leave their homes they will never be allowed to return.

Israel has said it must dismantle Hamas’ extensive military infrastructure and remove it from power in order to prevent a repeat of the October 7 attack that ignited the war.

Israel Palestinians
Israel Palestinians Satellite images show Israeli armoured vehicles and tanks just north of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

The surprise assault through the border fence saw Hamas and other Palestinian militants kill about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and capture some 240 men, women and children.

The Israeli military has said it makes every effort to spare civilians and accuses Hamas of using them as human shields as it fights in dense residential areas, where it has a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers, rocket launchers and sniper nests.

But the militant group is deeply rooted in Palestinian society, and its determination to end decades of open-ended Israeli military rule is shared by most Palestinians, even those opposed to its ideology and its attacks on Israeli civilians.

Rising column of smoke
Rising column of smoke Israel has begun a new phase in the war (AP)

That will complicate any effort to eliminate Hamas without causing massive casualties and displacement.

Even after weeks of unrelenting bombardment, Hamas’ leaders in Gaza were able to conduct complex ceasefire negotiations and orchestrate the release of more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners last week. Palestinian militants have also kept up their rocket fire into Israel, both before and after the truce.

The fighting has brought unprecedented death and destruction to the coastal strip.

The health ministry in Gaza said the death toll in the territory since October 7 has surpassed 15,890 people – 70% of them women and children – with more than 42,000 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. It says hundreds have been killed or injured since the ceasefire’s end, and many still are trapped under rubble.

An Israeli army official provided a similar figure for the death toll in Gaza on Monday, after weeks in which Israeli officials had cast doubt on the ministry’s count.

The official said at least 15,000 people have been killed, including 5,000 militants, without saying how the military arrived at its figures. The military says 84 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that it was too soon to pass judgment on Israeli operations, but that it was unusual for a modern military to identify precise areas of expected ground manoeuvres and ask people to move out, as Israel has done in Khan Younis.

“These are the kinds of steps that we have asked them to undertake.” he said. “These are the conversations we’re having day in, day out.”

The US has pledged unwavering support to Israel since the October 7 attack, including rushing weapons and other aid to the country.