Bloodiest fighting of the new year decimates Gaza

Palestinian families flee Khan Younis on January 22.

Palestinian families flee Khan Younis on January 22. Photo: Getty

Israeli tanks storming southern Gaza’s main city have reached the gates of two hospitals, cutting residents off from trauma care as the bloodiest fighting of the new year tore through areas sheltering hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Residents said the bombardment from air, land and sea was the most intense in southern Gaza since the war began in October, as Israeli tanks surged across Khan Younis from the east into the western areas close to the Mediterranean coast.

Video images filmed from afar showed scattered civilians wandering a ghost city, crowded with tents, as gunfire rattled and columns of smoke rose into the sky.

Israel launched an offensive last week to capture Khan Younis, which it now says is the principal headquarters of the Hamas militants responsible for the October 7 attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military response has killed at least 25,295 people, health authorities said in an update on Monday.

The newest phase of the war has brought fighting deep into the last corners of the enclave, packed with those who’ve fled the fighting elsewhere.

The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now penned into two towns, Deir al-Balah and Rafah, just north and south of Khan Younis respectively. They are crammed into public buildings and vast camps of tents made from plastic sheets lashed to makeshift wooden frames.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had lost all contact with its staff at its Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, main base for the rescue agency, where Israeli tanks were parked outside.

Further west, advancing Israeli tanks had reached the al-Mawasi district near the Mediterranean Coast for the first time, cutting off its Al-Khair hospital and stationing themselves around nearby Al-Aqsa university, heaving with thousands of displaced civilians.

At Nasser Hospital, the only major hospital still accessible in Khan Younis and the largest still functioning in Gaza, witnesses said the trauma ward was overwhelmed with wounded being treated on the floor and in hallways.

Health officials said least 20 dead bodies had arrived there overnight and they expected many more later, as tanks on the streets made it hard for rescuers to recover them.

Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said in a statement that dozens of dead and wounded were trapped in areas targeted by Israeli troops.

“The Israeli occupation is preventing ambulance vehicles from moving to recover bodies of martyrs and the wounded from western Khan Younis,” he said.

The storming of western parts of Khan Younis is the culmination of a battle that Israeli officials have depicted as their last large-scale ground assault before they shift to lower-intensity, more targeted operations to eradicate Hamas.

Israel says it will not stop fighting until Hamas is completely eradicated, and accuses Hamas of using civilians for cover, which it denies. But Palestinians and many Western military experts say that objective may be unachievable because of Hamas’s diffuse and deeply rooted structure in Gaza, which the group has run since 2007.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke firmly with Israel’s main ally the United States, disavowing any future plans for an independent Palestinian state.

Washington says that maintaining a path towards an independent Palestinian state, the bedrock of US policy in the region for decades, is the only way to make peace with the bulk of Israel’s Arab neighbours and rebuild Gaza after the war.

Though Israelis overwhelmingly support the war, a growing, outspoken number led by relatives of the remaining hostages say the government should do more to reach a deal to free them, even if that means reining in its offensive.

Netanyahu said on Sunday he would make no deal to free the hostages that required leaving Hamas unvanquished.

“I reject outright the terms of surrender of the monsters of Hamas,” Netanyahu said. 

Sami al-Zuhri, head of Hamas’ political unit in exile, told Reuters on Monday Hamas was open to “all initiatives and proposals but any agreement must be based on ending the aggression and the occupation’s complete withdrawal” from Gaza.


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