Fighting Inches Closer to Hospitals in Gaza’s Khan Yunis

Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Heavy fighting has approached hospitals in Gaza’s Khan Yunis as Israel intensifies its assault on the city, which has become the focal point of the war with Hamas.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the thousands of internally displaced people who are now trapped on the hospital grounds in the largest city in southern Gaza.

The Israeli army claims to have “encircled” Khan Yunis, the birthplace of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, who is accused of masterminding the October 7 attacks that sparked the war.

The UN humanitarian agency, OCHA, reported heavy fighting near hospitals in Khan Yunis, including Al-Aqsa, Nasser, and Al-Amal. There are reports of Palestinians trying to flee to the southern town of Rafah. The agency also cited medics who said no one can enter or exit Nasser Hospital due to ongoing bombardments. They also reported that staff at the hospital are digging graves on the grounds in anticipation of a high number of fatalities.

Approximately 18,000 internally displaced people are reported to be at Nasser Hospital alone, according to OCHA.

Palestinians who fled Khan Yunis have been arriving in Rafah on pick-up trucks, along with their belongings.

Gaza hospitals have already received the bodies of at least 125 people killed overnight, as reported by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The Hamas government stated that dozens of Israeli tanks are surrounding Nasser Hospital from all sides, except for a corridor for displaced people to leave.

The Gaza war began with Hamas’s attacks on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli official figures.

In response, Israel has launched a relentless military offensive that has killed at least 25,700 people in Gaza, with about 70 percent of the casualties being women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is facing increasing pressure from the Israeli public to end the war, especially after 24 soldiers were killed in a single day, marking the deadliest day for the Israeli army since the ground operations in Gaza began.

According to the Israeli army, the soldiers were killed when they were surprised by terrorists who fired rocket-propelled grenades. The New York Times reported that the operation was intended to demolish part of a Palestinian neighborhood to create a “buffer zone” along the Israeli border.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized Israeli officials’ repeated rejection of calls for the creation of a Palestinian state as “unacceptable” and said it would prolong the conflict indefinitely.

The World Food Programme has warned that conditions in Gaza are worsening, with more than half a million people facing catastrophic food insecurity levels.

In Gaza City, people displaced by the war are trapped in a conflict zone without access to provisions. They have been besieged for six days, with no food or water while being bombed from the air, sea, and tanks, according to Umm Dahud al-Kafarna, a resident from Beit Hanun.

US President Joe Biden’s Middle East envoy Brett McGurk is in the region for talks aimed at brokering a new deal to free the remaining captives in exchange for a pause in fighting.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo to meet with Egypt’s intelligence chief and discuss new ceasefire proposals.

The Gaza war has raised concerns about a wider escalation, with an increase in violence involving Iran-backed Hamas allies across the Middle East. The US military conducted strikes on Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Yemen, while the UK and US have launched several strikes aimed at reducing the Houthi movement’s ability to target shipping in support of Palestinians in Gaza.