For the first time since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a ground attack on Gaza, dozens of tanks and infantry are now fighting in the heart of a major city in the southern half of the Strip.
Until now, the IDF was focusing its operations in the north but following last week's temporary truce it has clearly expanded the combat focus also to the main southern city of Khan Younis - where the IDF believes Hamas' top commanders are hiding.
An IDF spokesman announced Tuesday, "We are in the heart of Jabaliya, in the heart of Shejaiya and from this evening, also in the heart of Khan Younis." The former named locations are in the north near Gaza City.
"This is the most intense day [of battles] since the start of the [ground] maneuver, in terms of terrorists killed, the number of engagements and the use of fire from the ground and the air," the spokesman said.
Tanks were first spotted positioned outside Khan Younis this past weekend and at the start of the week. The city had a pre-war population of some 300,000 to 400,000+, but may have tripled since the start of the conflict, given civilians were urged to abandon their homes in the north and flee to the south.
Israeli army Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi declared Tuesday that the operation has moved to a southern phase after key terror strongholds in the north have been secured. Within the 24 hours prior to the announcement, there were widespread reports of a total communications and internet cutoff to the whole of Gaza.
"Sixty days after the war began, our forces are now encircling the Khan Younis area in the southern Gaza Strip," he said. "We have secured many Hamas strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip, and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south."
UNRWA's Gaza chief, Thomas White, has also said the IDF is currently ordering civilians to leave as Khan Younis has become a "dangerous fighting zone." This move on the south has sparked international outrage given civilians were for prior weeks told to flee to places like Khan Younis.
⚡️Israeli occupation airstrikes in Khan Yunis, the place they made Palestinian civilians evacuate to. pic.twitter.com/vPnlTUVZdv— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) December 5, 2023
UN agencies have underscored however that there's nowhere to go. "Nowhere is safe in Gaza and there is nowhere left to go," the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories Lynn Hastings said. "If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond," Hastings added.
Additionally, 972 Magazine while reporting from on the ground describes of the deteriorating situation for civilians who thought they were in a 'safe zone':
The last days have been the hardest we have experienced since the war began, here in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Until last Friday, this area was designated a “safe zone” — a farcical description considering the Israeli army has bombed the city non-stop, but one that nonetheless brought an influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians from the northern parts of the Strip, which Israeli troops have directly occupied for more than a month. Now, the army’s invasion of southern Gaza is underway, and residents have nowhere to run.
Salvos of rockets from Gaza continue to rain down on southern and central Israel, also as sporadic rocket fire from Hezbollah has continued in the north. Most of these rockets have been intercepted, but in some cases have hit buildings or schools.
Hamas has newly published the following combat footage showing engagement with IDF tank & ground crews in Khan Younis...
New Suraya al-Quds video shows Palestinian resistance fighters confronting invading enemy forces east of Khan Younis. pic.twitter.com/yXJgqTV7mN— Asa Winstanley (@AsaWinstanley) December 5, 2023
As of Tuesday morning, the IDF confirmed that five more troops had been killed in Gaza fighting the day prior. Currently the official death toll for the IDF stands at 80 Israel soldiers killed in combat. Some war monitors believe the actual death toll could be a lot higher given that Hamas has long honed deadly guerilla tactics, however.
As for the Palestinian side, Gaza sources are saying that over 15,200 mostly civilians have been killed. But Israel's military has claimed to have taken out some 5,000 Hamas militants, and thus has disputed the stats issued from Gaza's health ministry.
* * *
Map via BBC showing what was previously, but no longer, deemed a safe zone: