Israeli troops and Hamas militants battled Wednesday in the Gaza Strip with the war putting increasing pressure on Palestinian civilians who are facing more difficulty finding shelter and access to humanitarian aid.
Israel’s military said Wednesday it had carried out airstrikes on about 250 targets in the Gaza Strip during the past day.
The United Nations reported a significant intensification of Israeli bombardments of Gaza since Monday afternoon, along with the intense ground fighting as well as an increase in rocket fire by Palestinian militants toward Israel.
Israeli military officials said their forces were encircling the southern city of Khan Younis, the second largest in Gaza.
The expansion of the war in southern Gaza followed an initial focus on areas in the north, including Gaza City. It also followed weeks of Israeli military orders for civilians to move to the south in order to stay away from the fighting.
But with the Mediterranean Sea to the west, and closed borders with Egypt and Israel to the south and east, the space for available for people to go to is shrinking.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says an estimated 1.9 million people are displaced within Gaza, amounting to nearly 85% of the population, and one million of them are registered at U.N. shelters in southern Gaza.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said late Tuesday that for the third consecutive day, the Rafah area in southern Gaza was the only place where aid distributions were able to take place due to the fighting elsewhere.
U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk said at a briefing Wednesday that Palestinians in Gaza “are living in utter, deepening horror” and that civilians are being deprived of food, water and medical supplies.
"Military operations, including bombardments by Israeli forces, continue in north, middle and south Gaza, affecting people who have already been displaced multiple times, forced to flee in search of safety but no place is safe."
Israel has accused Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, 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 16,240 people in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected a reported Israeli proposal for a post-war buffer zone in Gaza in order to help prevent future attacks on Israel.
The Reuters news agency said last week that Israel had conveyed the proposal to several Arab states, with the plan involving the buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border.
Turkish media cited Erdogan saying that Gaza’s future would be decided by the Palestinian people and that the Israeli plan was “disrespectful.”
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.