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Israel says ground forces operating across Gaza Strip as offensive builds

Israel says ground forces operating across Gaza Strip as offensive builds
Tanks are seen in a staging area during sunset near the border of Northern Gaza on 30 November 2023 in Southern Israel. Israel and Hamas agreed to a further extension to a truce that has lasted nearly a week, which promised the release of more Israeli hostages held in Gaza, as well as the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. (Photo: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

GAZA/CAIRO, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Israeli ground forces were confronting Hamas fighters across the across the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said on Sunday in its clearest indication yet that a planned ground offensive in the enclave's refugee-crowded south had begun as Israeli bombing killed and wounded dozens of Palestinians.

  • Residents hear sound of tank fire in southern city of Khan Younis, fear fresh Israeli ground assault
  • U.S. destroyer downs drones as three commercial ships attacked in Red Sea-Pentagon
  • Iran-backed Houthi movement claims attacks on two Israeli ships

Many Khan Younis residents say they are packing to leave, but no safe spaces left in south

By Arafat Barbakh and Nidal al-Mughrabi

The Hamas Palestinian militant group said its fighters clashed with Israeli troops about 2 km (1 mile) from the southern city of Khan Younis.

Residents, many of whom had moved there to flee earlier attacks in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, said they could hear tank fire and feared a new Israeli ground offensive was building.

The Israeli military earlier ordered people to evacuate some areas in and near the city, but made no announcement of any new southern ground assault.

“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) continues to extend its ground operation against Hamas centres in all of the Gaza Strip,” spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters in Tel Aviv. “The forces are coming face-to-face with terrorists and killing them.”

Early on Monday, Hamas media quoted emergency services as saying an Israeli strike killed three civil emergency workers in Gaza City in the north of the coastal enclave.

SHIPPING ATTACKS

Attacks on shipping in the southern Red Sea on Sunday heightened fears of the conflict spreading.

The U.S. Defense Department said three commercial ships were attacked by Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi movement in international Red Sea waters, and a U.S. destroyer operating in the area shot down three drones as it responded to distress calls.

A Houthi spokesperson said its navy had attacked two Israeli ships in the Red Sea with an armed drone and a missile on Sunday, though an Israeli military spokesman said the two ships had no connection to Israel.

REFUGEE CAMP STRIKE

The Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Hamas-ruled Gaza was among the sites reported hit from the air. A Gazan health ministry spokesperson said several people were killed by an Israeli air strike.

Footage obtained by Reuters showed a boy covered in grey dust, sitting weeping amid crumbled cement and rubble from collapsed buildings.

“My father was martyred,” he cried in a hoarse voice. A girl in a pink sweatshirt, also coated with dust, stood between piles of rubble.

Bombardments from war planes and artillery were also concentrated on Khan Younis and Rafah, another city in Gaza’s south, residents said, and hospitals were struggling to cope with the flow of wounded.

Israel’s government spokesperson, Eylon Levy, said the military had struck more than 400 targets over the weekend “including extensive aerial attacks in the Khan Younis area” and had also killed Hamas militants and destroyed their infrastructure in Beit Lahiya in the north.

There was no immediate comment on the reports of specific attacks.

The renewed warfare followed the end on Friday of a seven-day pause in the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants which had allowed an exchange of 105 hostages held by Hamas, most of them Israelis, for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

The latest violence took place despite calls from the United States — Israel’s closest ally — for Israel to limit harm to Palestinian civilians in the new phase of its offensive, focused on the south.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris made phone calls to both Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense and U.S. support for a two-state solution that gives Palestinian people the right to self-determination.

Harris “reiterated our concerns with steps that could escalate tensions, including extremist (Israeli) settler violence,” her office said.

More than 15,523 people have been killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry, in nearly two months of warfare that broke out after a Hamas cross-border raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 240 taken hostage. Israel says Hamas continues to hold 136 hostages.

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas. The Iranian-backed group is sworn to Israel’s destruction. The initial Hamas attack and the ensuing war amount to the bloodiest episode in the decades-old wider Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based Hamas official, accused Israel of pursuing a deliberate strategy of urging Gazan civilians south in order to trap and kill them there.

“It has become clear that the occupation’s claim … of the existence of safe areas in the south of the Gaza Strip, and its constant call for citizens to go there, was a premeditated plan and trap to commit more massacres against unarmed civilians and displaced people in the south,” he told reporters without citing evidence. “There are no safe areas.”

 

GROUND OFFENSIVE FEARED

Gaza residents said earlier on Sunday they feared an Israeli ground offensive on the southern areas was imminent. Tanks had cut off the road between Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, effectively dividing the Gaza Strip into three.

The Israeli military ordered Palestinians to evacuate several areas in and around Khan Younis. It posted a map highlighting shelters they should go to west of Khan Younis and south toward Rafah, on the border with Egypt.

Many residents started packing but said that areas they had been told to go to were themselves coming under attack.

 

(Reporting by Suhaib Salem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo; Mohammed Salem and Roleen Tafakji in Gaza, Maayan Lubell, Ari Rabinovich and Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Maggie Fick in Beirut, Andrew Mills in Doha, Nandita Bose in Dubai, Idrees Ali, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Agf Agf says:

    I don’t understand why more countries in the West are not calling on Hamas to surrender. This would surely bring the war to a swift end and halt the deaths of more Palestinians. Does Hamas not have the wellbeing of Palestinians at heart? Or do they want to fight to the death (their’s and the Gazans at large)

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      Why should Hamas surrender to criminals? Israel had made it clear that its offensive is to destroy Gaza and make it a rubble and to murder Palestinians. This is what they have said as their declared intention. Israel has been having 7 000 Palestinian hostages in its military dungeons that include women and children. The Palestinians have no reason to surrender to criminals now and in the future.

      • Agf Agf says:

        Why should they surrender? Because it’s a war and in a war the losing side surrenders so as to save themselves and their citizens from destruction. Or do you suggest that they fight to the last man and in so doing be responsible for the death of more of their people. That’s what brave and wise leaders do. In World War 2, as the allies closed in on the German High Command from both directions, the latter surrendered. It’s the way of war.

        • Enver Klein says:

          Agf Agf, let me pose questions to you?
          Why don’t Israel release the thousands of Palestinian hostages they hold in horrific conditions? Why do Israel continue to kill Palestinians in the West Bank which is not governed by Hamas? Why did Netanyahu present a map to the UN detailing the expanded Israel borders, with no West Bank or Gaza, i.e., no Palestinian territories, in September, weeks before October 7?
          This is not war; the intent is to kill as many Palestinians as possible under the pretext of war. The intent is to force the remaining Palestinians into the desert, the alternative is death by bombing.

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        It is well known how Hamas uses human shields, and so unfortunately, they still have plenty of “artillery” left, in their sick minds. This is why they aren’t surrendering. Meanwhile their leaders, who haven’t (yet) been killed in Gaza (or tried to escape dressed as women and have been caught) – live in exile or are invited to SA on our taxpayer money for “solidarity meetings” (notice how nervous they looked, these “dead men walking”?). Cowards.

        • Enver Klein says:

          The only cowards are those who continually bomb a defenseless population …

          • Louise Wilkins says:

            Both sides have a point, both sides are at fault.

            But at this stage, I have to agree that continually bombing a defenseless population doesn’t look good for Israel.

  • Neil Parker says:

    I think that the Israeli defence establishment is throwing its toys in a manner not to different from Mr Vladimir Putin. They had clear information about the Wall of Jericho plans a year before it happened and did nothing. Too arrogant to believe it was possible perhaps and now they’ve been caught with their pants down so all the big bravado ‘tough guy’ posturing is nothing but a smoke screen for that. I am being deliberately as scathing as possible because security establishments need to understand there is no place for arrogance. Precautionary measures which could have saved the lives of both Israelis and the many Palestinians killed in the conflict should have been put in place. They were not.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      Neil, are you suggesting it was Israel’s own fault that 1400 of its civilians were attacked and murdered in cold blood, allowing the 7 October massacre to happen? If so – you have zero understanding of what life means to Jewish people. As for the comment about “precautionary measures … should have been put in place”, it seems if you’re a Jew / Israeli – it’s a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Build a wall, put up checkpoints, secure your borders and strengthen your army – and be sure that Neil’s buddies will label you “occupiers” /”apartheid” / “colonizers”. More reasons why these comments are trite.

      • Louise Wilkins says:

        You’re so quick to point out what Hamas has done but no mention of what Israel has done in return? 1200 vs 16000 and counting. Just a slight imbalance?

  • Agf Agf says:

    The other option is for the good people of Palestine to rise up and overthrow the Hamas terrorists who have brought such death and destruction to them. Of course this is unlikely as they voted them in, in the first place, with the full knowledge of what they were getting themselves into. They are not exactly innocent bystanders. Look at their reaction when their “heroes” returned from their killing spree. Cheering and spitting on the raped and lifeless bodies of the young Israeli girls.

  • Vas K says:

    This debate will not end until the war ends. In the meantime, the war is a terrible, terrible business which is not won by sticking to the rules suggested by some well meaning bureaucrats. And this particular war was started by Hamas who commited the most despicable, horrific and inhuman attrocities. If anyone thinks that Israel should now negotiate with the untrustworthy fanatics with no human qualities, he/she must be beyond naive. This enemy, dangerous not only to Israel, must be eliminated.

    Where would we be, if Allies in the WWII negotiated with the fanatics in Berlin and Tokyo. They had to finish them off. Unlike now, nobody told them what to do and what not to do incessantly 24 hours a day on TV and other media. No brainwashing. They had all the support to beat the evil. And they did. I was not around then, but reportedly the very significant collateral damage in Germany and Japan played a decisive role in victory. Nobody freaked about war crimes. As I said, the war is a very nasty business.

    Everyone seems to be forgetting that in the Gaza conflict the terrorists are the bad guys and Israelis the victims. And that there is a simple and quick way to end the war: for international community and citizens to stop supporting terrorists and force them to release hostages and to surrender.

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