A photo taken on Wednesday in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke rising during the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip as fighting continues between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

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A photo taken on Wednesday in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke rising during the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip as fighting continues between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

TEL AVIV, Israel — Some of the heaviest fighting since Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza began more than two months ago took place in Khan Younis on Wednesday, with artillery fire and gunfire echoing through the Palestinian territory’s second-largest city.

But fighting also continued in the north of the Gaza Strip, the focus of the first phase of the war, which Israel says is aimed at destroying Hamas.

“We are in the heart of Jabaliya, in the heart of Shujaiya and now also in the heart of Khan Younis,” Israel Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman said at a news conference on Tuesday. Jabaliya, home to a large refugee camp, and Shujaiya are in the north of the Gaza Strip. Khan Younis is considered a Hamas stronghold and is located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

In Khan Younis, the alleged home of the militant Islamist group’s top leader Sinwar, Finkelman said senior Hamas leaders were being “eliminated.”

He said the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday experienced “the most intense day since the start of the ground operation in terms of the number of terrorists killed, the number of firefights and the use of land and air firepower.”

He said Israeli soldiers were “destroying weapons and terrorist infrastructure, both above and below ground.”

The statement was the first time Israel admitted that ground troops were deployed in and around Khan Younis. Israel released a video showing soldiers operating in the northern Gaza Strip.

In one Post on X (formerly Twitter), the IDF said on Wednesday that the Israeli Air Force had hit 250 targets in the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours and that ground forces “continue to locate and destroy weapons, underground shafts, explosive devices and other terrorist infrastructure.” “

The fighting, which Israel says is aimed at crushing Hamas, has forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians to flee or risk death. They are warned by the Israeli military to move to “safer zones” using robocalls, online maps and leaflets dropped from planes. Areas considered relatively free of fighting include a tiny coastal strip called Al Mawasi and the Rafah area along the Egyptian border.

A family fleeing the Israeli bombardment in Gaza in a photo taken near Rafah, Gaza, on Tuesday.

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A family fleeing the Israeli bombardment in Gaza in a photo taken near Rafah, Gaza, on Tuesday.

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UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency that helps Palestinians, has issued another in a long series of dire warnings in recent days. It warned of “[another] “Wave of displacement” in Gaza.

“[T]The situation is getting worse by the minute. There is no “safe” zone; the entire Gaza Strip has become one of the most dangerous places in the world. “There is nowhere to go as shelters, including UNRWA, are overcrowded,” the agency said on X.

The United Nations estimates that 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are internally injured by fighting since October 7, when Hamas carried out a surprise attack on communities in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages were expelled, says Israel. In response, Israel launched airstrikes and, in the following weeks, a large-scale ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

According to Gaza health authorities, more than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the fighting began, leaving nearly three-quarters of the population homeless. International pressure due to the death and suffering inflicted on Gazans has pressured Israel to protect Palestinian civilians.

Last week, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California and warned that Israel risked “strategic defeat” if it did not protect Palestinians in Gaza.

“The focus is on civilians, and driving them into the arms of the enemy replaces a tactical victory with a strategic defeat,” Austin said.

Israel’s chief of staff Herzi Halevi said on Tuesday: “We are acting professionally.” [and] to evacuate the population from the combat areas in a timely manner.”

“We are often asked about the destruction in Gaza,” Halevi said. “Hamas is them [answer] To these questions he replied: “Our armed forces find weapons in almost every house, there are terrorists in many houses, we are fighting them.”

“These things require the use of a wide spectrum of fire, both to inflict damage on the enemy and, of course, to protect our forces. “That is why they are operating vigorously,” while still making “great efforts to minimize damage to civilians,” Halevi said.

Speaking to NPR, Brian Carter, an analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Critical Threats Project, which has tracked urban fighting in Gaza, said Israeli forces on the ground have not made rapid progress.

“Clearance work takes a long time,” Carter said. “In areas they have already evacuated, they still have to conduct military operations while Hamas fighters attack their positions in these evacuated areas.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers from his war cabinet met with some hostages who were released as part of a brief ceasefire last month after being held for weeks by Hamas in Gaza.

Freed hostages criticized Israeli government officials for claiming to have information about Hamas sites and yet bombing indiscriminately. They said they were more afraid of Israeli bombs during their captivity than of their militant captors.

One of the former hostages lambasted officials over reports that Israel was considering flooding Hamas tunnels where many of the prisoners were being held.

NPR’s Scott Neuman and Eleanor Beardsley reported from Tel Aviv and Brian Mann reported from Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. NPR producer Anas Baba contributed from Rafah, Gaza.

Source : www.npr.org

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