Israel continued its assault on the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Thursday, carrying out intensive airstrikes that Palestinian officials said killed at least 16 people. The fighting has threatened Al-Nasser Hospital, the last fully functioning medical facility in the territory.
Israel Pounds Khan Younis in Bid to Force Hamas Surrender
According to the Israeli military, dozens of militants were targeted and hit in the strikes on Khan Younis. However, the Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least 16 people, including women and children, were killed when missiles hit a three-story home in the city (AP, Al Jazeera).
The intensive bombardment came as Israel presses its campaign to force Hamas, which controls Gaza, to surrender. The Israeli government said the strikes specifically targeted Hamas military infrastructure and operatives in the area. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed there would be no let-up until Hamas agrees to a ceasefire on Israel’s terms (Yahoo).
“We will continue to strike Hamas targets and operatives until they get the message that this confrontation is not in their interest,” Netanyahu told reporters.
Hospital Hit as Families Flee Intensifying Battles
As the fighting has intensified around Khan Younis over the past two days, Al-Nasser Hospital has found itself at the center of the clashes. On Wednesday, the Israeli military accused Hamas of launching attacks from the facility, a claim Jordan denied on Thursday, saying its field hospital set up at the site suffered damage from Israeli tank fire instead (Al Jazeera).
The continued battles have forced families sheltering at the hospital to flee, searching for safety. At least 16 displaced families were seen streaming out of the Al-Nasser area on Wednesday carrying mattresses, blankets and bags of clothing (Middle East Eye). Rights groups warned the loss of the hospital as a safe refuge will only worsen the humanitarian crisis gripping Gazans.
“With nowhere else to go, displaced families have been sheltering at Al-Nasser,” said Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth. “If Israel takes that away, it will devastate medical care for Gazans and their safety” (Twitter).
|Death Toll in Gaza Since Fighting Began
|137 Palestinians, including 39 children
Aid Trickles In But Access Still Challenged
Small quantities of medicine, food and fuel have managed to enter Gaza during pauses in the fighting, brought in from Egypt via the Rafah crossing. However, aid groups said the supplies are insufficient for the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, more than half of whom rely on some kind of aid (France24).
Israel has kept tight restrictions on the passage of goods into the territory, arguing Hamas could use items like concrete and piping to construct attack tunnels. Rights advocates counter that the blockade amounts to illegal collective punishment of Gazans.
“There is no justification for preventing aid materials Israel knows will be used for purely civilian purposes,” Roth said on Twitter. “The right to health care and food should not depend on progress in cease-fire talks” (Twitter).
|Estimated Displaced Gazans
International Mediation Efforts Yield Little Progress
Hopes for a mediated end to the current crisis were dampened on Thursday as key international efforts failed to achieve progress. Arab and European diplomats trying to broker a ceasefire said neither Israel nor Hamas appeared ready yet to stand down.
Israel also rejected what it called a “humiliating” proposal from the U.S. to accept gradual Saudi normalization in return for facilitating an international peace conference with the Palestinians, according to Israeli reports. The White House denied such an offer was formally made (Times of Israel).
The setbacks left the region facing an extended conflict, as Hamas continues rocket attacks in response to Israel’s bombardments. With both sides digging in, hopes rested on behind-the-scenes United Nations mediation efforts led by its Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland. But diplomats said his leverage was limited as long as the violence persists.
Background to the Crisis
Tensions leading to the current violence escalated in late 2023 as indirect Israel-Hamas talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar stalled without progress on issues like Hamas’ military capabilities and the crippling Gaza blockade.
In November, Israel launched a major crackdown in the West Bank after a series of deadly attacks in Israeli cities it blamed on Gazan militant groups. The raids sparked wider unrest across the Palestinian territories.
Then in December, Israeli security forces stormed the Al Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem after Palestinians stockpiled stones and fireworks there. That led Hamas to threaten attacks if Israel did not stand down.
When Israel did not withdraw its heightened security deployment, Hamas launched a major rocket barrage in January, sparking the open conflict that continues until today.
What Comes Next?
With both sides standing firm in their positions and the mediation efforts stalled, an end to the violence does not appear imminent. Israel is intent on battering Hamas into submission or toppling its Gaza regime entirely. Meanwhile, the militant group knows it cannot back down from its demands without losing credibility among Palestinians.
If the hostilities cannot be brought to a negotiated halt, the bloodshed likely will continue. That leaves Gazans facing an even more desperate humanitarian situation and the danger of the conflict spiraling further out of control. With tensions simmering in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well, experts warn the Israel-Hamas hostilities could ignite a fully fledged Palestinian uprising against the occupation.
For the residents of Gaza already living through their fourth war in less than 15 years, that is a nightmare scenario as bombs continue falling around them. How long they must endure this trauma depends on progress at the negotiating table that so far remains lacking.
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