The Israeli army intensified its offensive against Hamas on Tuesday in the south of the Gaza Strip, a very densely populated region where it carried out deadly airstrikes, raising fears of an “even more hellish scenario”, according to the UN, for civilians trapped.
Engaged since October 27 in a ground offensive in the north of the besieged Palestinian territory, the army has extended its ground operations to the entire Gaza Strip, almost two months after the start of the war triggered by the Hamas’ bloody attack on Israel.
Since the resumption of fighting on 1er December after seven days of truce, the army shelled the south of the territory, causing many deaths and injuries in this region where hundreds of thousands of civilians have come to take refuge since the start of the war, crowded into makeshift shelters , schools or in tents.
They are now trapped in an increasingly small area, with nowhere to go, forced to flee a few kilometers to try to escape the bombs.
On Tuesday again, on foot, on motorbikes, crammed into carts or their luggage piled on the roof of their cars, civilians fled the large city of Khan Younes, the new epicenter of the war, towards the neighboring city of Rafah, even more so. to the south, near the closed border with Egypt.
The previous night, witnesses reported to AFP airstrikes and artillery fire in the area of Khan Younes and Rafah as well as in Deir al-Balah, further north, after the deployment on Monday of dozens of Israeli tanks, troop transports and bulldozers in the south of the Palestinian territory.
Every day, the soldiers dropped leaflets on Khan Younes warning of an imminent bombing and ordering residents to leave their neighborhood.
The Israeli bombings were preceded by “a new evacuation order from Khan Younes to Rafah”, “which caused panic, fear and anxiety”, declared Monday the director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini.
A hundred square kilometers
“At least 60,000 additional people have been forced to move to already overcrowded UNRWA shelters […] many of whom have been displaced several times” since the start of the war, he added, specifying that the Israeli evacuation order was pushing people “to mass in less than a third of the territory of the strip of Gaza”, or around a hundred square kilometers.
For the UN, it is “impossible” to implement secure zones as designated by Israel.
“These zones cannot be safe or humanitarian when declared unilaterally,” James Elder, spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said on Tuesday.
The Palestinian Wafa agency also reported early Tuesday that “several” deaths occurred in a strike on the city of Gaza, further north.
The Israeli army released images showing strikes carried out by its naval forces from the Mediterranean.
The armed wing of Hamas announced that it had fired a salvo of rockets towards Beersheva, a town in the Negev desert in southern Israel.
International organizations are alarmed at the risks for civilians in Gaza, where “all telecommunications services” are at a standstill, according to the Palestinian telecoms group Paltel.
“An even more hellish scenario is about to materialize, to which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond,” warned the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian Territories, Canadian Lynn Hastings.
Chaos at Nasser Hospital
Tuesday morning, the same scenes of chaos were repeated at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younes, the largest in the south of the Gaza Strip, after new bombings. Under the sirens of ambulances, injured people were transported on stretchers, lying in simple trailers or carried by their loved ones, according to AFP images.
Several people described losing loved ones in a strike that hit a school serving as a shelter for refugees.
Mohammed Saloul lost his sister. “His body was in the schoolyard. We had to carry it ourselves,” he said: “We saw human remains in the school, even though the bombing was not directly targeting that school, but rather the surrounding area.”
According to UNRWA, the hospital, overwhelmed by the influx of wounded, lacking staff and supplies, is home to more than a thousand patients as well as 17,000 displaced people.
The Hamas health ministry said Monday that 15,899 people, 70% of them women and children and adolescents, had been killed since Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip began on October 7.
About two civilians were killed for every Hamas fighter who died in the Gaza Strip, senior Israeli military officials said Monday, adding that high-tech mapping software had been deployed to try to reduce the death toll among those killed. who do not fight.
In Israel, the attack carried out on October 7 by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza left 1,200 dead, mostly civilians, according to the authorities.
In retaliation, Israel declared war on Hamas and promised to destroy the Islamist movement in power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
The army announced Tuesday morning the death of three of its soldiers the day before, bringing the death toll to 78 soldiers since the start of the ground offensive.
For its part, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicated Tuesday on its X account that 63 journalists and media professionals — 56 Palestinians, 4 Israelis and 3 Lebanese — had been killed since the start of the war.
According to the Israeli army, 137 hostages kidnapped in Israel on October 7 are still being held in Gaza, after the release during the truce of 105 other hostages, including 80 in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, whose country was the main mediator in the truce agreement, on Tuesday called the international community’s inaction on the continuing war “shameful” .
According to the UN, 1.8 million people, out of 2.4 million inhabitants, have been displaced by the war in the Gaza Strip where strikes have destroyed or damaged more than half of the homes.
The needs are immense in the territory subject to a total siege by Israel since October 9, which has caused serious shortages of water, food, medicine, electricity and fuel. Humanitarian aid, with the exception of the seven days of truce, only enters in trickles from Egypt, subject to the green light from Israel.
The Israeli army has asked international humanitarian organizations for their “support” to “help establish infrastructure” in Al-Mawasi, a coastal area in the south of the Gaza Strip between Khan Younes and Rafah, where Israel is asking civilians to fall back.