Israel said its forces advanced Tuesday on the heart of Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city, with fierce fighting against Hamas militants even as international aid organizations expressed concern that Palestinians seeking refuge in the region do not have a haven from the war.
“We are in the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation — in terms of terrorists killed, the number of firefights and the use of firepower from the land and air,” the commander of Israel’s southern military command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, said in a statement. “We intend to continue to strike and secure our accomplishments.”
Finkelman said that since the week-long cease-fire expired last Friday, “Israeli Air Force aircraft have carried out two rounds of strikes involving dozens of aircraft from all the combat squadrons. Hundreds of munitions were utilized during strikes on tunnels, operational shafts, and anti-tank missile launch positions in order to support the movement of [Israel Defense Forces] infantry soldiers on the ground.”
The IDF also reported intense battles farther north in the areas of Jabalya and Shuja’iyya.
Warnings from the Israeli military in recent days urged people in multiple Khan Younis neighborhoods to evacuate for their safety, directing them to areas farther south. A new warning Tuesday told people to stay away from Salah al-Din, the main north-south corridor.
Thomas White, Gaza director of the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, said Israel ordered about 600,000 people to leave neighborhoods where fighting was expected. But he said on the social media site X that the evacuation could drive them to Rafah, along the southern border with Egypt, where the new refugees could double the number of the displaced already sheltering in the crowded city.
The new arrivals erected tents and pieced together makeshift shelters in the streets or wherever they could find empty spaces around the city, according to the United Nations’ office for humanitarian affairs.
“The conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza do not exist,” the U.N. said. “If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond. What we see today are shelters with no capacity, a health system on its knees, a lack of clean drinking water, no proper sanitation and poor nutrition for people already mentally and physically exhausted — a textbook formula for epidemics and a public health disaster.”
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the military would observe a temporary pause in attacks in the Rafah area in order to ease the movement of humanitarian supplies.
There is a border crossing in the area used to bring in truckloads of humanitarian aid from Egypt, though U.N. officials have said the amount of aid reaching civilians in Gaza is not nearly enough.
U.S. aid chief Samantha Power made a visit Tuesday to El-Arish, a nearby area used to coordinate incoming international aid.
“More must be done to protect civilians and accelerate the pace of life-saving assistance reaching the people of Gaza,” Power posted on X.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says an estimated 1.8 million people are displaced within Gaza, while the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says nearly 1 million people are sheltering in its facilities in southern Gaza.
Many people fled northern Gaza for the south in the earlier stages of the war as Israel focused its campaign against Hamas in such areas as Gaza City.
The fighting has only been interrupted by the cease-fire. The deal, brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, included Hamas releasing more than 100 hostages and Israel freeing 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said during a speech to Gulf leaders Tuesday that Qatar was working to renew the truce, but that a pause in fighting was not an alternative to a comprehensive cease-fire.
The emir also criticized what he described as inaction by the international community.
"It is shameful for the international community to allow this heinous crime to continue for nearly two months, during which the systematic and deliberate killing of innocent civilians continues, including women and children," the emir said.
Israel has accused Hamas of embedding itself in and underneath hospitals and other civilian areas and encouraging civilians to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate ahead of airstrikes, in effect using them as human shields, an accusation Hamas has denied.
Israel began its military campaign to end Hamas’ rule of Gaza after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 people as hostages.
In its military offensive, Israel has killed at least 15,890 people in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.