Fierce fighting broke out on Thursday between the Israeli army and Palestinian Hamas fighters in the south of the Gaza Strip, notably in Khan Younes, where deadly gunfire targeted a UN shelter housing displaced people the day before.
The Islamist movement’s Health Ministry reported Thursday that 50 people had been killed in the last 24 hours in Khan Younes, where the Israeli army said its snipers had killed several “terrorists.”
The air force targeted Hamas members in central and northern Gaza and other fighters were killed in “close combat”, the army added in a statement.
In Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza, AFPTV images showed graves marked by paving stones on which the names of those buried were written in marker, amid streets littered with debris and buildings bearing the projectile impact.
“They look like graves, but they are not real graves,” said Ahmad Abdul Salam, a resident of the city’s Al-Maghazi refugee camp. “In these mass graves, we buried entire families, who were exterminated. »
The Israeli army, which says it has “surrounded” Khan Younes, called on the local population to leave for Rafah, further south, on the border with Egypt. But the fighting makes transport to this region dangerous, where the majority of the 1.7 million Palestinians already displaced by the war are concentrated.
Tank fire against a building of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Khan Younes left at least “12 dead and 75 injured on Wednesday, including 15 in serious condition”, according to a new report announced Thursday by Thomas White, head of the organization in Gaza.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, said the reception center was “clearly” identified and that its contact details had been “shared with the Israeli authorities”. He denounced “a flagrant violation of the fundamental rules of war”.
The Israeli army told AFP that a “review” of the operations was underway but that it had “ruled out […] an air or artillery strike”, also evoking “the possibility” of a Hamas shot.
The United States, Israel’s first ally, said it “deplored” these shots and called for UN sites in Gaza to be “protected”.
The war was sparked by the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli soil on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official data.
Some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza, around 100 of whom were released at the end of November during a truce in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. According to the same count, 132 hostages are still in the territory, of whom 28 are believed to have died.
Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a vast military operation that killed 25,700 Palestinians, the vast majority women, children and adolescents, according to the Islamist movement’s health ministry.
In Gaza, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen in the besieged territory.
“We are exhausted. Stop! Both sides need to stop. Enough is enough,” laments Latifa Abou Rezk, who came to cry over the remains of a loved one in a hospital in Rafah.
Israeli protesters blocked a road in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening to urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to accept a pause in the fighting, or even a ceasefire.
Qatar, Egypt and the United States are currently trying to mediate to reach a new, longer truce in Gaza including the release of hostages and prisoners.
But in a recording obtained by Israeli channel 12, Benjamin Netanyahu deemed the mediator role of Qatar “problematic”, a country which hosts the political leadership of Hamas, an organization classified as “terrorist” by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
“I have no illusions about them. They have the means to put pressure (on Hamas, Editor’s note). And why ? Because they finance them,” Mr. Netanyahu said in Hebrew according to this recording.
On Thursday, the Israeli Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, a figure of the extreme right, repeated the remarks attributed to the head of his government by affirming on X: “One thing is clear: Qatar will not be involved in any way in what will take place in Gaza after the war. »
Qatar said it was “dismayed” by the statements attributed to Mr Netanyahu, accusing them of “hindering and undermining the mediation process”.
Furthermore, the conflict is exacerbating regional tensions, particularly off the coast of Yemen where the Houthi rebels, close to Iran, fired missiles against two American ships on Wednesday, forcing them to turn back.
On Israel’s northern front, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, also supported by Iran, said it had attacked Israeli air defense systems with suicide drones. Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israeli bombings and airstrikes targeted villages near the border with Israel.
Furthermore, the Israeli army announced Thursday that it had carried out operations in several towns and villages in the occupied West Bank, where 16 people were arrested and a Palestinian was killed.