The Israeli military has reportedly surrounded Khan Younis, the largest city in the southern Gaza Strip, and advanced further into the city where they suspect Hamas leaders are hiding in tunnels with hostages. Residents claim that tanks have blocked the last exit route from the city to the Mediterranean coast, preventing them from escaping southwards. There has also been intense fighting around the city’s two main hospitals.
The situation follows the funerals of 24 Israeli soldiers who were killed on Monday, marking the deadliest day for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since the start of its ground offensive in Gaza 12 weeks ago. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reports that at least 195 Palestinians were also killed in the previous 24 hours, and over 25,400 people – mostly women and children – have been killed during the war between Hamas and Israel.
The conflict was sparked by a cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen on southern Israel on October 7, resulting in approximately 1,300 deaths – mostly civilians – and about 250 people taken hostage.
Israeli ground forces expanded their operation into southern Gaza in early December, after largely taking control of Hamas strongholds in the north. They reportedly reached the “heart” of Khan Younis within days, where hundreds of thousands of people who had fled northern areas were taking refuge. However, they have since faced strong resistance from Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade.
The Israeli operation has escalated in recent days, with dozens of people reported killed in air and artillery strikes on Monday alone. On Tuesday, the IDF stated that its troops had “carried out an extensive operation during which they encircled Khan Yunis and deepened the operation in the area”.
The IDF also ordered residents of western Khan Younis to relocate immediately to the al-Mawasi area on the Mediterranean coast for their safety. However, witnesses claim tanks have blocked the road leading there, preventing them from joining the estimated million people currently sheltering to the south in Rafah, on the border with Egypt.
The World Health Organization expressed deep concern over reports of attacks on hospitals in Khan Younis. On Tuesday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reported that a civilian had been killed by an Israeli drone at the entrance of Al-Amal Hospital, which it runs, and that others had been injured when shells struck its nearby headquarters.
The PRCS also reported difficulties in reaching wounded people and transporting them to hospitals. They warned that Al-Amal and the nearby Nasser Medical Complex – the largest of the 14 hospitals still partly operational in Gaza – were “overwhelmed and overcrowded”.
UN Secretary General António Guterres described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “appalling” and appealed for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman said it was “engaging in serious discussions with both sides” on a potential deal, while a Palestinian official said that a Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo to “discuss new proposals” with Egypt’s intelligence minister. Israel has not denied proposing a two-month truce, involving the release of hostages and Palestinian prisoners, but reports suggest that Hamas has already rejected this offer, demanding a permanent ceasefire instead.