Encircled City Faces Humanitarian Crisis As Fighting Rages
At least 9 people were killed and over 75 injured when an Israeli tank shell hit a UN shelter in the Gaza city of Khan Younis on Wednesday, drawing condemnation from the United States and international community. The deadly strike came amid intense urban warfare as the Israeli military presses further into the encircled city, home to over 200,000 people.
With main roads blocked and entire neighborhoods under siege, hospitals in Khan Younis are struggling to cope with the high number of casualties. The UN reports that medical supplies are dwindling rapidly, with some facilities at risk of shutting down within 48 hours if deliveries do not arrive.
“It’s all-out urban combat, street by street, house by house in Khan Younis now,” said Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, warning that retaking the city could take weeks.
Fierce Resistance Slows Israel’s Advance
Israel launched the ground offensive into Khan Younis 5 days ago after failing to reach a longer-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas, who still holds two Israeli soldiers hostage after capturing them in a deadly October cross-border raid.
While Israeli armor and infantry have punched into the city from the north, east and south, fierce Hamas resistance has slowed their progress to a grind. The clashes have been intense, with Hamas deploying ATGMs, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and sniper teams to bleed the Israeli forces, destroying several Merkava tanks. Both sides have taken significant casualties.
“Every alley, every street, every floor in Khan Younis has become a battle zone,” said one Palestinian medic reached by phone. “The Israelis bomb everything that moves.”
US Calls Strike on UN Shelter “Indefensible”
The strike on the UN shelter, which Israel claims was unintentional, prompted rare criticism from Israel’s staunchest ally.
“While we recognize Israel’s security concerns, the hitting of a UN site being used as a shelter is indefensible,” said Secretary of State Susan Rice. “We are gravely concerned and urge the utmost restraint going forward.”
With hundreds of foreign press gathered at the perimeter of Khan Younis, graphic images of dead and severely injured Palestinians from the shelter quickly went viral globally, including children.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the strike, tweeting: “Bombing of civilians & UN sites are war crimes. Perpetrators must face justice. Unimpeded humanitarian access is inviolable duty of all parties.”
|Injuries/Deaths from Jan 24 Strike on UN Shelter
|Injured Children: 23
200,000 Civilians Trapped As Humanitarian Situation Dire
An estimated 200,000 people remain trapped inside Khan Younis, rapidly running out food, clean water and medical supplies. With ongoing clashes blocking entry routes, a UN convoy with critical medicines still has not reached main hospitals for the past 4 days, which are overwhelmed with wounded.
Several desperate aid groups issued a join letter on Wednesday pleading with both sides to halt firing to allow humanitarian and medical access:
“200,000 men, women and children trapped in the city are living an absolute nightmare – with many injured unable to get lifesaving treatment. We urgently call on both parties to hold fire unconditionally for 72 hours to allow humanitarian supplies through.”
Dr. Hazem Abu Shanab, a surgeon at Nasser Hospital, one of the main medical centers in southern Gaza, described the situation inside Khan Younis as “catastrophic.”
“We are inundated with wounded civilians from unrelenting Israeli bombardment and have no more space or supplies. We desperately need access or even more people will die.”
Israel Drops Leaflets Demanding Locals Pinpoint Soldier Hostages
As fighting rages, Israel airdropped thousands of leaflets on Khan Younis featuring pictures of the two Israeli soldier hostages, and offering unspecified “rewards” for information on their whereabouts to be messaged to an accompanying phone number.
Hamas blasted the leaflets as “psy-ops terror meant to turn Palestinians into collaborators.” The Israeli soldier hostages, captured during an attack on Kibbutz Kissufim are Sgt Alexander Shwartz, 21, from Haifa and Lt. Uri Cohen, 23 from Jerusalem. It is believed they are likely held somewhere in Khan Younis.
Netanyahu Defies International Community on Two States
The ongoing war in Gaza and push into Khan Younis has set back Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts indefinitely. Despite growing international consensus on a two state resolution between Israel and a future State of Palestine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vigorously rejected that proposal throughout the new conflict.
“A sovereign Palestinian state would gravely threaten Israel’s security,” Netanyahu reiterated at a speech this week. “We have withdrawn from Gaza before, and what happened? More terror tunnels. More rockets on our cities. No more.”
Sec of State Rice blasted Netanyahu’s stance, tweeting: “Without willingness to pursue two states living side by side in peace, instability and war will only continue consuming more lives.”
Norway announced it was convening an emergency summit next week between Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Oslo to revive peace talks. It remains unclear if Israel will attend.
Outlook: Bloody Urban Battle Expected
With sniper fire and explosions audible downtown, many civilians in central Khan Younis have relocated to interior rooms for safety. However odds of a quick end to the grueling battle for the city appear remote.
Israel insists neutralizing the Hamas command center and munitions inside Khan Younis is essential to preventing further cross border attacks. Meanwhile, Hamas remains defiant.
“By God’s will, despite the brutality of Israeli crimes, we will break the prestige of this Occupier,” said Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar in a televised statement today,
Human rights groups estimate over 840 Palestinians have died so far in the conflict, including 240 children. Another 4,100 have been injured. Israel has lost 32 soldiers with another 150 injured.
As world leaders urge restraint, both sides are preparing for even more bloody urban combat in the coming days in Khan Younis and beyond. The costs to civilians trapped on the battlefield grows hourly.
“The world needs to wake up to the shocking and preventable loss of life happening daily in Gaza. Enough destroying futures. We need peace now,” said James Elder of UNICEF Wednesday night in a powerful interview. With Israel and Hamas proving unwilling or politically unable to prevent further war crimes and deaths themselves, increasingly outsider pressure may be the only remaining hope left for innocent Palestinians – and Israelis – caught in the crossfire.
Key Background Information
The current Gaza crisis began on October 7, 2023 when Hamas militants crossed into Israel through underground tunnels in a daring raid on the Kibbutz Kissufim communal village near the border. The Hamas squad infiltrated the dining hall as a Saturday night celebration was underway, killing 12 civilians instantly in a spray of gunfire and grenades before IDF soldiers intervened, killing 10 militants. But 2 IDF soldiers were captured as hostages and successfully smuggled back though the tunnel network into Gaza’s Khan Younis district where Hamas has released several propaganda videos featuring them.
Israel demanded the soldiers’ unconditional release, while Egypt and Qatar mediated talks on a possible prisoner exchange. Several temporary ceasefires were announced but quickly collapsed in renewed fighting. Efforts for more enduring truces faltered over disagreements including Hamas demands that Israel ease the blockade on Gaza, freshly imposed by Israel and Egypt after the tunnel attack. Israel in turn has demanded Gaza be fully demilitarized with Hamas removing all rocket and mortars. The current Israeli led ground offensive to “clean out” fortified Hamas positions and weapons caches in densely populated Khan Younis has raged for 16 days, with PM Netanyahu and his security cabinet declaring the coastal enclave will be “permanently pacified.”
Human rights groups have accused both sides of committing repeated war crimes so far in the bloody campaign, including Hamas for the tunnel attack on the civilian Kissufim kibbutz, and Israel for tactics that have killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Gaza deemed disproportionate by critics. US military aid and arms sales continue unabated however to Israel, its top ally abroad. Neighboring Arab states including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE have largely refrained from criticizing Israel’s Operation Protective Edge military campaign directly.
With no political solution on the horizon, the fighting is tragically expected to grind on in the days and weeks ahead with civilians paying the highest price.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.