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Dozens of people killed as Israel intensifies offensive in southern Gaza's Khan Younis

Smoke billows over the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis as the Israeli offensive there intensified.
AFP via Getty Images
Smoke billows over the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis as the Israeli offensive there intensified.

Israeli forces have intensified their offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza's second largest city. Gazan health officials said that dozens of people have been killed in the fighting, and the United Nations said a hospital was struck, cutting off access to already limited medical care.

Earlier in the war between Hamas and Israel, the city swelled with thousands of displaced people from northern Gaza. People are now being forced to flee even farther south.

"The situation [in Khan Younis] is worse than you can imagine," Tareq, a man who fled the fighting, told NPR in Rafah on the border with Egypt. He refused to give his last name out of fear about his safety.

"There was targeted bombing and tanks, and it took us all by surprise. No one told us to leave the area, we woke up and found the tanks in front of our houses," he said. "I saw dead people on the ground, and the ambulances weren't able to reach anyone to save them because of the shooting."

The Israeli military said on Tuesday that it has encircled the city, where it says many Hamas leaders are based. The army also said that it had located and dismantled dozens of Hamas tunnels and other underground infrastructure outside Khan Younis.

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency that provides aid to Palestinians, told NPR that one of its training centers in Khan Younis was struck, killing at least six people. She said the training center served as a shelter for 30,000 people.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli shelling and gunfire from drones targeted its Khan Younis headquarters, which also serves as a shelter. It said people were injured in the strikes but did not specify how many. It also said that Israeli troops had encircled their ambulance headquarters, impeding medical transport.

A spokesman for the Israeli armyissued a statement on X for residents of Khan Younis to evacuate a number of neighborhoods. But it's unclear how effective such messaging is as a result of the communications blackout. Israel's military also has said because of the dense civilian population in Khan Younis its operations will be "precise."

Zaher Sahloul, president of MedGlobal, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency health services in Gaza, said that the number of evacuees from Khan Younis during the current fighting was shocking.

"The road was full of cars where you have mattresses and luggage on top of the cars fleeing from the Khan Younis area, using all means of transportation including carriages pulled by donkeys and horses," he said. "If you see the pictures of the 1948 Nakba it is the same thing, the same families, same faces, same scenes of desperation, of depression, of anxiety on the faces of children and women and elderly." He referred to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the establishment of Israel.

While the United States said it urged Israel to scale down its offensive in Gaza, Israel has continued to strike targets, forcing Palestinians to flee. More than 85% of people in Gaza have been forced out of their homes, according to the United Nations.

Gaza's health ministry said Israel's assault has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, the majority of which are women and children. The assault is a reaction to the Oct. 7 attack in Israel during which Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped roughly 250 others.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.