- Israel’s Prime Minister says forces are surrounding the house of a top Hamas leader.
- Israel says it believes many Hamas leaders and fighters are in underground tunnels.
- Palestinian medics say hospitals are overflowing with dead and wounded, many of them women and children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israeli forces are encircling the Gaza house of top Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar near the Khan Younis refugee camp.
that our forces could reach anywhere in the Gaza Strip. Today they are encircling Sinwar’s house. His house may not be his fortress and he can escape but it’s only a matter of time before we get him,” Netanyahu said in a recorded video statement.
Residents in Khan Younis told Reuters that Israeli tanks had neared Sinwar’s home but it was not known whether he or any of his family were there.
Israel has said it believes many Hamas leaders and fighters are holed up in underground tunnels.
Israeli troops have fought fierce battles with Hamas in southern Gaza after reaching the heart of Khan Younis, forcing Palestinian civilians to seek refuge elsewhere as the number of safe areas decreases.
Israeli warplanes also bombarded targets across the densely populated coastal territory in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in the two months since Israel began its military campaign to eliminate the Palestinian militant group.
Palestinian medics said , many of them women and children, and supplies were running out.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people driven out of the north were seeking shelter in the dwindling number of places in the south designated as safe areas by Israel.
In Geneva, the United Nations human rights chief said the situation was “apocalyptic” and there was a risk that serious rights violations were being committed by both sides.
The UN said it was impossible to deliver aid through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt.
After largely gaining control of northern Gaza, Israeli troops and tanks pushed further south and encircled Khan Younis following the collapse of the seven-day truce last week.
Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said combat was fierce.
Some Palestinians described lucky escapes after their homes were destroyed in an overnight air strike on the al-Amal neighbourhood of Khan Younis.
“I swear we don’t even know how we made it out alive,” said Hamdi Tanira, describing an attack on a house where he said he and about 30 others were sleeping, including 20 children.
In Gaza’s north, tanks, naval boats and war planes pounded areas of the Jabalia refugee camp as well as roads and houses, residents and Hamas media said.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War said Hamas fighters were using improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel mines in a shift of tactics as the fighting moved to close ground combat.
Israel unleashed its military campaign in response to an attack on 7 October by Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.
The significant escalation is the latest in a long-standing conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Hamas is a Palestinian military and political group that has gained power in the Gaza Strip since winning legislative elections there in 2006.
Its stated aim is to establish a Palestinian state, while refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas, in its entirety, is designated as a terrorist organisation by countries including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US while New Zealand and Paraguay list only its military wing as a terrorist group.
In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly voted against a resolution condemning Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.
Hamas’ media office said at least 16,248 people including 7112 children and 4885 women had been killed in Gaza since then.
Those figures were not immediately verified by the Gaza health ministry.
Israel said 84 of its soldiers had been killed since the ground operation began five weeks ago.
The handful of hospitals that remain open across Gaza are barely functioning.
Colonel Moshe Tetro, an Israeli humanitarian affairs officer, said the military has been telling civilians in advance to leave areas of Khan Younis where it plans to operate using phone messages, online statements and leaflets.