Gaza deaths rise to 16,248 as Israeli forces encircle Khan Yunis


GAZA: Israeli forces were encircling southern Gaza’s main city on Wednesday, battling Hamas fighters through streets and buildings in some of the most intense combat of the two-month war.

The focus of the conflict has shifted to the besieged territory’s south following fierce fighting and bombardment that reduced much of the north to rubble and forced nearly two million people to flee their homes.

Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen near southern Gaza’s city of Khan Yunis, forcing already displaced civilians to pack up and flee again, witnesses told AFP.

“Our forces are now encircling the Khan Yunis area in the southern Gaza Strip,” Israel’s army chief Herzi Halevi said late Tuesday. “We have secured many Hamas strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip, and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south.”

The fighting on Tuesday was “the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation” in late October, the army’s Southern Command chief Major General Yaron Finkelman said.

Israel declared war on Hamas after the group’s October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and saw around 240 hostages taken.

The latest toll from the Hamas-run government media office said 16,248 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, had been killed.

More than 15,900 Palestinians killed in Gaza since Oct 7: Palestinian health minister

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and free 138 hostages still held after scores were freed during a short-lived truce.

Several Hamas commanders were killed in an air strike near the Indonesia Hospital, the Israeli military said early Wednesday on X.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 25 people had died in a strike on Tuesday that hit a school where displaced people were sheltering.

Ambulances, trucks and other vehicles delivered bloodied, dust-covered people to Khan Yunis’s Nasser hospital, including children.

Israel had previously told civilians in the north of the densely populated Gaza Strip to seek shelter in the south of the territory, with many fleeing to Khan Yunis believing it would be safer.

As the war expands, Israel has told people to move even further south, sparking “panic, fear and anxiety”, according to Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

People were being pushed into an area that is less than one-third of the Gaza Strip, with roads to the south clogged, he said.

International aid groups have condemned the succession of orders to flee from one area to another, saying that civilians were running out of options.

“Nowhere is safe in Gaza,” said United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.

“Not hospital, not shelters, not refugee camps. No one is safe.”

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