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‘Targeted raids’ of Israeli forces displace thousands in southern Gaza

Israeli troops continued their bombardent of Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Israeli troops continued their bombardent of Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photo: AFP/Getty

Israeli troops have battled Hamas in the heart of south Gaza’s biggest city and have surrounded the militant leader’s house as thousands of displaced civilians sought shelter near Egypt and in a desolate seaside area of the enclave.

Gazans crammed into Rafah on the border with Egypt on Thursday on the basis of Israeli leaflets and messages saying that they would be safe in the city.

But they remained fearful after an Israeli strike on a house there killed 15 on Wednesday, according to health officials in Rafah.

Israel said on Thursday it had killed a number of gunmen in southern Gaza’s largest city, Khan Yunis, including two militants who emerged firing from a tunnel, a day after Israeli troops entered the heart of the city. Hamas’ armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, said earlier that combat was fierce.

Palestinian health officials said an Israeli air strike had killed four people in a house in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza Strip overnight and another strike killed two people in Khan Yunis on Thursday morning.

Residents in Gaza City in the north reported all-night bombing and fierce gunbattles in Shejaia, east of the centre and the Jabalia refugee camp further north as well as bombing in another district, Sabra.

In “targeted raids” in central Khan Yunis, Israel said its soldiers “eliminated terrorists, destroyed terrorist infrastructure and located weapons”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces encircled the Khan Yunis house of Hamas leader Yahya Al-Sinwar.

“His house may not be his fortress and he can escape but it’s only a matter of time before we get him,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Khan Yunis residents said Israeli tanks had neared Sinwar’s home but it was not known whether he was there. Israel has said it believes many Hamas leaders and fighters are holed up in underground tunnels.

Israeli warplanes also bombed targets across the densely populated coastal strip in one of the heaviest phases of the two-month-old war. WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said at least 17 were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Maghazi in Central Gaza on Wednesday night.

In Geneva, the UN human rights chief said the situation in Gaza was “apocalyptic” with the risk that serious rights violations were being committed by both sides.

The United Nations humanitarian office said in a report on Wednesday that most of the homeless people in Rafah, about 13 kilometres south of Khan Yunis, were sleeping rough due to a lack of tents although the UN had managed to distribute a few hundred.

Displaced civilians were also fleeing to the desolate area of Al Mawasi on Gaza’s southern Mediterranean coast, which Israel has said is safe.

Israel unleashed its military campaign in response to a surprise October 7 incursion by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.

Figures from Gaza’s Health Ministry put the death toll in Gaza at 16,015, including 43 reported by one hospital on Tuesday and 73 by another on Wednesday.

But since Monday the ministry has not released daily casualty updates for all of Gaza, leaving it unclear whether the new overall toll was comprehensive.

As Israel broadened its ground onslaught on Wednesday after largely taking control of north Gaza last month, Palestinian medics said Gaza’s hospitals were overflowing with dead and wounded, many of them women and children, and supplies were running out.

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations including Israel’s close ally the United States called for further humanitarian truces “to address the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and minimise civilian casualties”.

The UN Security Council received a UAE-drafted resolution on Wednesday that demanded an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” with a vote sought on Friday.

Warning of a “severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday invoked rarely used Article 99 of the founding UN Charter to push for a ceasefire in a letter to the Security Council.

The United States and ally Israel oppose a ceasefire because they believe it would only benefit Hamas. Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan denounced Guterres’ move: “The Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire is actually a call to keep Hamas’ reign of terror in Gaza.”

-Reuters

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