Israeli tanks batter hospitals in Gaza’s Khan Younis, displaced set to flee

The fighting in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis has isolated its two main hospitals, stranding hundreds of patients and thousands of displaced people inside. A third hospital was evacuated overnight, White said. Thousands of people rushed to escape farther south in recent days, crowding into shelters and tent camps near the border with Egypt.

Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training centre which displaced people use as a shelter, after being targeted by an Israeli tank in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Photo: AP

Gaza health officials said at least 50 Palestinians had been killed in Khan Younis in the past 24 hours, including two children in an Israeli air strike that hit a residential home.

The city is now encircled by Israeli armoured forces and under almost non-stop aerial and ground fire, residents say, and a huge mushroom-like column of smoke billowed skyward from areas of Israeli military operations on Thursday.

Palestinian doctors said Israeli tanks had cut off and were shelling targets around the city’s two main still-functioning hospitals, Nasser and Al-Amal, trapping medical teams, patients and displaced people sheltering inside or nearby.

Israel says Hamas militants use hospital premises as cover for bases, something the Islamist group and medical staff deny.

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The Israeli military’s siege of Khan Younis’ main hospitals, in what it calls an escalating campaign to eliminate militants in Hamas’ main south Gaza stronghold, has made it near impossible for rescue crews to reach the wounded or collect the dead.

Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population is now squeezed into Khan Younis and towns just north and south of it, after being driven out of its northern half earlier in Israel’s blitz of the Hamas-ruled territory, now in its fourth month.

The fusillade from advancing Israeli forces forced many displaced people to set out again in search of ever dwindling places of safe shelter, doctors and residents said.

Displace people set to flee compound

On Thursday, thousands of displaced Palestinians who had taken refuge from Israeli shelling in the UN compound were preparing to flee to Rafah, 15km (nine miles) away on Gaza’s southern edge.

Israeli forces had set a 5pm local time Friday deadline for the UN compound to be evacuated, according to residents and local journalists at the site. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Juliette Touma, chief spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, confirmed the report, estimating there are more than 30,000 displaced persons crammed inside.

At least 25,700 people have been killed in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated and widely impoverished places, Palestinian health officials say, with large tracts of the heavily built-up enclave flattened by Israeli bombing.

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Israel unleashed its war to eradicate Hamas after militants stormed through the border fence in a shock incursion into nearby Israeli towns and bases on October 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing around 240 hostages.

The Israeli military said on Thursday it had killed more than 9,000 Hamas militants and lost 220 soldiers in 3-1/2-month-old war. Reuters was unable to verify the figures.

In its latest update, the Israeli military said forces had carried out raids with precision air strikes and snipers to take out multiple Hamas command centres and militant emplacements in Khan Younis, including the Al Amal district.

“In close-quarters combat, the soldiers eliminated the terrorists, and various weapons were discovered in the process,” it said in a statement.

‘Humanitarian pause’ talks hit snag

Urgent international appeals for a ceasefire to spare civilians who have borne the brunt of casualties have fallen on deaf ears with Israel vowing not to relent until Hamas has been eradicated and all hostages freed.

Hamas says any deal must hinge on Israel ending its offensive and siege and withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.

Mediated talks on a month-long truce that could see hostages freed in swaps for Palestinian prisoners in Israel have resumed, but have snagged on the two sides’ differences over how to bring an end to the war, sources told Reuters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said less than 20 per cent of the narrow enclave – around 60 square km (23 sq miles) – now harboured over 1.5 million people in the south, “where the dramatic escalation of fighting threatens their survival”.

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Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Nasser Hospital was running at only 10 per cent of capacity in “harsh and frightening conditions”, having run out of food, pain killers and anaesthesia medications.

In north Gaza, residents said they had almost completely run out of food, especially flour, and have been grinding down livestock feed to replenish it.

Video footage from Gaza City’s al-Zeitoun district in the north, verified by Reuters, showed hundreds of people fleeing from an aid distribution point as gunfire crackled nearby.

The UN World Food Programme said earlier this week very little food aid had made it beyond south Gaza since the start of the war and pockets of the enclave remained at risk of famine.

Gaza’s conflict threatens to destabilise the Middle East, stoking hostilities ranging from the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the Israel-Lebanon border region, Syria, Iraq and Red Sea shipping lanes crucial to international trade.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry that exercises limited self rule there, said at least 370 people had been killed in Israeli army raids or clashes since October 7.

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