The Israeli army has widened its attacks in southern and central Gaza, with some of the heaviest fighting in the war seeing homes sheltering displaced Palestinians bombed, refugee camps hit and no safe place left to evacuate thousands of people already on the move for weeks.
From early Wednesday morning, “under heavy aerial bombardment, Israeli tanks started pushing deeper and deeper to the centre of Khan Younis city, coming from the eastern side,” reported Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Rafah, in southern Gaza, forcing hundreds of people to flee the area.
“Everybody thought the eastern areas of Khan Younis were the main target, as the leaflets that were dropped on the residents stated, but it seems like the entire city of Khan Younis is under heavy bombardment right now,” Mahmoud said, of the leaflets dropped by Israeli forces ordering residents to evacuate.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said that Israel’s military was gearing up for days of intense battle in Khan Younis, which it views as a key Hamas stronghold where many leaders could be stationed.
However, Israel’s military must move cautiously as it believes numerous captives could also be there, said Fisher, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem.
“It’s all part of a plan to move the operation further south,” he said. “We’re likely to see [the Israeli military’s] intense operation extend four or five weeks until the middle of January.”
The next few days could bring the heaviest fighting of the two-month war, he added.
Mahmoud said that “after this point, there are no options for Palestinians to go anywhere. The only option that might be feasible or even possible for Palestinians is crossing into Egypt, but with the current situation, it seems very, very difficult”.
“Under heavy bombardment, people were being pushed first into the central part [of Gaza], then Khan Younis, and now Rafah,” he reported, adding that “more than 1.5 million people have been squeezed into this pocket of land that’s really populated with people”.
There were also relentless assaults on Deir el-Balah in central Gaza through the night, reported Al Jazeera’s Hind Khoudary from the area. She said there were “non-stop explosions, non-stop artillery shelling and non-stop clashes. Multiple homes were bombed”.
“The number of wounded being brought to the hospital is massive. Doctors and paramedics have not been able to save them all,” Khoudary said, describing the intensity of the attacks and noting that “it is very dangerous for people to leave for either the north or the south. At the same time, conditions here are very harsh. There is no food in the markets. Even the little food that was once available is not any more since the centre has been split off from the south.”
At least six people were killed and 14 wounded in an Israeli air strike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. An Al Jazeera team at the site of the strike reported on Wednesday that people were trapped under the rubble of a building that was hit.
As the injured are rushed to the few remaining functional hospitals in the area, relief organizations sounded the alarm that supplies were perilously low.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, warned that Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah was running out of options.
“There are 700 patients admitted in the hospital now, with new patients arriving all the time,” MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial said. “We are running out of essential supplies to treat them.”
At least 16,248 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7. In Israel, the official death toll stands at about 1,200.