As Israeli forces push into southern Gaza, airstrikes and skirmishes approach the enclave, home to more than a million people.
Aid officials, who fear Gaza's largest remaining hospital could be closed or evacuated, say the prospect of major operations in densely populated areas is “deeply worrying”.
Eyewitnesses told the newspaper:GuardianBritish forces heard ground fighting and explosions throughout the day Friday in the western town of Khan Younis, a key town in southern Gaza where Israel says several Hamas members and leaders are holed up.
Fighting came within meters of Nasser Hospital, the largest hospital still partially functioning in Gaza, last week, medical workers said. The facility receives hundreds of wounded every day since fighting shifted to the south last month. There are fears it could be shut down by Israeli bombing and evacuation orders.
Israel is focusing its military operations in the southern Gaza Strip, where Hamas said at least 90 people were killed overnight.
Witnesses told Agence France-Presse that Israeli forces bombarded southern Gaza on Friday night, particularly Khan Younis (south), which became the new focus of ground fighting and airstrikes after the first phase of the war was concentrated in northern Gaza. Undressing.
Witnesses told the Guardian of automatic weapons fire, an orange fireball forming over rooftops in the late afternoon and smoke billowing across much of the city.
On the other hand, soldiers in Khan Yunis “eliminated dozens of terrorists in close combat with the help of tank fire and air support,” Israeli officials said on Friday.
According to the British newspaper, Israeli forces have been fighting in the southern tip in recent days, most of them civilians, in an offensive that began after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. Women and children.
In response to the Hamas attack, Israel launched a massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip, followed by ground military operations, killing 24,762 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and thousands more believed to be buried under the destroyed rubble. Buildings and tens of thousands were injured.
The conflict has so far displaced nearly 85 percent of Gaza's population of 2.4 million.
Many fled to Khan Younis and Rafah after Israel ordered the evacuation of civilians in the north at the start of the war. Most of the UN-run shelters are overcrowded, with food, water, fuel and medical care in short supply.
Others live in crowded private apartments or makeshift camps, under plastic sheets attached to poles on the ground or even on roads.
Aid officials who have visited Gaza say the congestion in the south is almost unprecedented. Humanitarian convoys face difficulty navigating roads partially blocked by displaced families, with a journey that previously took 10 minutes now taking an hour.
“The situation is very difficult. Four-fifths of Gaza's population is here now. There are tents and crowds everywhere,” said Sofi Sugik, a senior oncologist who lives in Rafah.
Some of the displaced people live in a small hospital here…and we are unable to do medical or surgical interventions due to lack of medicines and supplies. Our patients are dying,” he added.
Israeli officials insist they are trying to avoid civilian casualties, accusing Hamas of using residents as human shields and issuing evacuation orders aimed at clearing residential areas before attacking them. The movement, which has been listed as a terrorist group in several countries, denies this.
According to The Guardian, analysts in Israel say taking control of Khan Younis and Rafah is essential to achieving its war goals of destroying Hamas' military capabilities and freeing the 132 hostages taken by the movement in the October 7 attacks.
Half of the 240 hostages held by Hamas in November were released in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons during the Qassiro ceasefire agreement.
According to the British newspaper, many believe many of the hostages are being held in Khan Younis and tunnels under the city. Controlling Rafah is seen as necessary to cut off Hamas' supply lines with Egypt, analysts said.
The possibility of a major Israeli offensive in or near Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt that has become a haven for about a million displaced people, is causing concern for humanitarian relief officials.
The Hamas Health Ministry announced early Saturday that at least 90 people had been killed in Israeli operations overnight.
“In Gaza today, almost everything is destroyed, and what's not destroyed is overflowing,” said Enrico Vallaberta, a combat medic who has just returned from a weeks-long mission for Doctors Without Borders. “Working with minimal drugs. Make sure they don't run out.”
The World Health Organization lamented the “inhumane living conditions” in the tiny coastal enclave of 2.4 million people.
On Friday evening, the Palestinian telecommunications company “Paltel” announced the gradual return of communications in various parts of the Gaza Strip, after eight consecutive days of blackouts, the longest since the start of the war.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday that some 20,000 children had been born in “hell” in Gaza in “unimaginable conditions”, while UN Women expressed concern about the number of women and children. “It is a shock for generations”.