After days of intense bombing, the Israeli army entered Khan Yunis, the main city in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday evening. The invasion of the city had been considered imminent since the first Israeli military vehicles were seen on Monday entering the southern part of the Strip, which had so far not been militarily occupied.
What is expected now is that what has already happened in recent weeks in the city of Gaza, which had been Israel’s first and main military objective in the north, could happen to Khan Yunis. Its invasion began on October 27 and was concentrated mainly near the city’s largest hospitals, where Israel claimed Hamas operations centers were hiding. At the same time, however, the hospitals were also used as a refuge for thousands of civilians fleeing from Israeli bombings.
On Tuesday evening Daniel Hagari, one of the Israeli army’s spokesmen, said that Khan Yunis is the “stronghold of Hamas in the south of the Gaza Strip” and that, as in other cities in the north, the army will carry out combined ground and planes to destroy underground tunnels used by the radical Palestinian group, kill its members, and free the 138 people who are still held hostage since the October 7 attack.
In the early stages of the war, Israel told Palestinian civilians living in the northern Strip to flee to southern cities, including Khan Yunis, to avoid being caught up in the fighting.
Now, however, Israel claims that parts of the southern Strip are used by Hamas and for civilians finding a place to escape is practically impossible. To the north there is the Israeli army, to the west the sea is controlled by Israeli military ships and to the south the only border crossing that does not lead to Israel, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, is closed (also all the crossings border crossings with Israel are in any case closed and monitored by the Israeli army).
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Already the first day of fighting inside Khan Yunis was extremely violent: there were various clashes between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militiamen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the Israeli army’s southern command, described the fighting as “the most intense day since the start of the ground operation.”
It is currently unclear exactly how the invasion of Khan Yunis is unfolding and what Israel’s primary objectives are, but Israeli Army Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Israeli soldiers were conducting sweeps in many houses, and they are finding hidden weapons and Hamas militiamen “in almost every building”.