Israel continued its military campaign in the Gazan city of Khan Yunis on Thursday. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas reported numerous casualties, with dozens killed amid heavy bombardment and urban combat.
The Israeli army claims to have “encircled” Khan Yunis, targeting the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, who is accused of orchestrating the October 7 attacks that triggered the conflict.
The bombardment of Khan Yunis has been unyielding, with strikes occurring every few minutes, according to an AFP journalist on the ground. Fierce clashes were reported in the city’s center and west, dangerously approaching hospitals sheltering displaced civilians. Hamas’s health ministry reported at least 50 fatalities in Khan Yunis within the last 24 hours.
Israel’s military indicated that several militants were killed in close-quarters combat, with strikes targeting militants in central and northern Gaza. The city of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza witnessed intense fighting, leaving streets strewn with debris and buildings marked by impacts. Residents spoke of mass graves, where entire families were buried.
## Humanitarian Crisis Unfolds
Amid the escalating violence, Palestinians were fleeing Khan Yunis by any means possible, with families loading belongings onto cars, donkey-drawn carts, tractors, and on foot. Many expressed desperation, leaving with nothing but the clothes on their backs as tanks fired near them. The conflict erupted following Hamas-led attacks on Israel in early October, resulting in a significant death toll and the seizure of hostages.
The United Nations reported an additional 12 deaths on Wednesday when tank shells struck a UN building sheltering 800 people in Khan Yunis. The UNRWA stated that the Israeli army ordered evacuations from the site, denouncing persistent attacks on civilian locations as “utterly unacceptable.” Intense fighting near hospitals effectively trapped staff, patients, and displaced individuals.
## Calls for Ceasefire amid Escalation
Amid mounting casualties, there have been increasing calls for a ceasefire. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast, declaring on Thursday, “Hamas came to wipe us out – we will wipe them out.” Egypt and Qatar have acted as mediators, but tensions have risen, with allegations against Qatar for funding Hamas.
Concerns about a broader escalation echo across the Middle East, with Yemen’s Huthis targeting shipping in the Red Sea, prompting military responses from the United States and Britain. Economic repercussions are feared, impacting global trade and leading to higher eurozone inflation, as stated by ECB president Christine Lagarde.
## International Response and Legal Proceedings
Internationally, the Gaza conflict has raised concerns, leading the UN’s International Court of Justice to announce its initial ruling on a genocide case brought against Israel by South Africa. While the ruling may not have enforceable power, it adds to the growing international pressure for a resolution to the crisis. The situation remains highly volatile, with the specter of wider regional escalation looming large.