- The IDF announced its forces are fighting ‘strongly and thoroughly’ in the south
- Dozens of tanks were heading towards Khan Younis today, eyewitnesses claim
The Israeli military says it struck ‘200 terror targets’ on Sunday as it announced an expansion of ground operations against Hamas to cover all of Gaza, with reports of dozens of tanks crossing the border into the southern part of the Strip this morning.
‘IDF troops struck terror infrastructure located inside a school in Beit Hanoun, from which an attack on the troops was carried out. In the compound were two tunnel shafts, including a booby-trapped one, explosives, and additional weapons,’ the IDF claimed.
It also said it had destroyed hundreds of Hamas tunnels since the start of its operation in Gaza, using explosives and blocks to collapse the routes or seal the entrances, with Israeli soldiers now moving south to continue their operations.
For weeks, Israel has warned civilians in Gaza to move south in the enclave as their battles against Hamas raged in the north, and it continued to be labelled as a safer option despite continuous Israeli bombing of Khan Younis and other areas.
Now, the IDF has declared that it is fighting ‘strongly and thoroughly’ in the southern half of Gaza, with warnings to displaced civilians to evacuate even further south away from the fighting.
Eyewitnesses told local media this morning that a battalion of Israeli tanks appeared headed for Khan Younis – where the IDF claims several Hamas commanders are holed up – with armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers also seen.
Amin Abu Hola, 59, said the Israeli vehicles were ‘two kilometres (1.2 miles) inside’ the Palestinian territory in the village of Al-Qarara near Khan Younis, while Moaz Mohammed, 34, said Israeli tanks were on the southern part of Salah al-Din road which runs from the north to the south of the strip.
Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi said on Sunday: ‘Yesterday, and today, we eliminated brigade commanders, company commanders, many operatives, and yesterday morning we started the same process in the southern Gaza Strip.’
The IDF said their operations in the south would be of ‘no less strength’ than its offensive in the north, and that Hamas commanders ‘will meet the IDF everywhere in a very, very strong way’.
Hamas reported on Sunday that its fighters clashed with Israeli troops around one mile from Khan Younis, and video on Arabic social media appeared to corroborate the accounts of tanks headed for the southern city.
Residents, many of whom had moved to southern Gaza to flee earlier attacks in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, said they could hear tank fire and feared a new Israeli ground offensive was building.
On Sunday night Israel also announced it had eliminated a key Hamas figure who had organised the October 7 attacks. In a statement it said an IDF jet has struck and killed Commander Haitham Khuwajari, head of Hamas’ Shati Battalion.
As the war moved into its 58th day leaflets were dropped on to the Gaza Strip urging people to move further south and maps were posted on social media showing people safe routes.
More than 1.8 million people out of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are said to be displaced across a strip of land 25 miles long and 7.4 miles at its widest point.
The Israeli military earlier ordered people to evacuate some areas in and near Khan Younis, but has only now announced a full-scale ground assault in the south.
‘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.’
Israel this weekend revealed it had carried out more than 10,000 airstrikes on the strip since the war started.
The Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Hamas-ruled Gaza was among the sites reported to have been hit from the air.
A spokesperson for the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said several people were killed by an Israeli airstrike.
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 and health officials have said, and hospitals were struggling to cope with the flow of wounded.
Israeli 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 fighters and destroyed their infrastructure in Beit Lahiya in the north.
An adviser to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is making ‘maximum effort’ to avoid killing civilians.
Pictures have shown severely injured children covered in blood at the Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Younis, which James Elder, from the children’s agency Unicef, described as a ‘warzone’.
He told the BBC that children were arriving with head injuries, terrible burns and shrapnel from recent blasts.
‘It’s a hospital I’ve gone to regularly and the children know me now, the families know me now. Those same people are grabbing my hand, or grabbing my shirt saying “please take us somewhere safe. Where is safe?”‘
‘They are unfortunately asking a question to which the only answer is there is nowhere safe. And that includes for them, as they know, that hospital,’ he said.
He told the BBC that he could hear ‘constant large explosions’ close to the hospital.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 500 people have been killed since bombing resumed after the end of a seven-day pause in the fighting on Friday.
The temporary truce between Israeli forces and Hamas, 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 – considered Israel’s closest ally – for the country to limit harm to Palestinian civilians in the new phase of its offensive, focused on the south.
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 October 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.’
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has consistently said it is targeting Hamas military strongholds and has asked civilians to move to safe zones so they can get humanitarian aid.
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.
Nabil Al-Ghandour told Reuters he and his family would leave Khan Younis for Rafah later on Sunday, their fifth move in search of safety since the conflict started.
‘We can’t see any safe areas,’ he said. ‘But we move because what can we do? We have children and all night there’s shelling.’
Later on Sunday, a Gazan health ministry official said seven people were killed in an air strike on a house in Rafah. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Israeli military said on Sunday its war planes and helicopters had struck Hamas targets including tunnel shafts, command centres and weapons storage facilities. Naval forces had hit Hamas vessels on the coast, it said.
The military declined to give figures on the number of air strikes carried out.
On another front, Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters traded fire across the Israel-Lebanon border and Israel said several of its soldiers were wounded when an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon hit a vehicle in the Beit Hillel area of northern Israel. Reuters could not independently verify the accounts.