Israel mounts deadly offensive in southern Gaza Strip

Death toll soars as military pushes deeper into area once supposed to be a safe haven

A woman reacts after the bodies of Palestinians killed during Israeli strikes on Ma'an school, east of Khan Younis, were laid out at Nasser Hospital. Reuters
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The Israeli military pushed further south into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, driving deep into the city of Khan Younis and bringing a new wave of destruction to an area crammed with displaced Palestinians who had fled from the north.

Hamas militants meanwhile fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, striking an apartment building in Ashkelon, north of Gaza, and causing light damage elsewhere.

Israeli tanks entered the eastern parts of Khan Younis, where scores of Palestinians were reported to have been killed or wounded.

A few kilometres away in Israel, warplanes were seen in the skies and heavy cannon and artillery fire was directed at the Gaza Strip as the Israeli assault enters a fierce new phase nearly two months after the war started.

As The National drove south into Israel, parallel to the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers guarded a field filled with the remains of approximately 2,000 cars and motorcycles that had been destroyed on October 7 when Hamas killed about 1,200 people in a rampage that triggered the current conflict.

Vehicles are laid out in rows or stacked up in towers while authorities decide what to do with them. Many had been burnt to a shell, others had been hit by rockets or strewn with automatic gunfire. Some had bullet holes in the windscreen with corresponding chunks missing on the driver-side seats, evidence of executions.

The cars might end up being buried and the field turned into a memorial, said Israel Maki, a policeman guarding it.

He said rabbis were in the process of scouring the vehicles for any human remains that could then be buried according to Jewish custom.

“If they find shoes, they look for blood and then bury the shoes,” Mr Maki said.

The scent of death hung in the air by some vehicles.

In the nearby town of Sderot, which overlooks the Gaza Strip and which was overrun by Hamas militants, the streets remained largely deserted and the air smelt of gunpowder from outgoing Israeli artillery.

Two people were hurt in the rocket strike on the apartment building in nearby Ashkelon, the ambulance service said. Rocket fire was reported elsewhere including in the Western Negev area, and in central Israel one person was lightly injured.

Israel, which flattened much of the northern half of Gaza last month before pausing for last week's seven-day ceasefire, is now focusing on the southern part of the enclave in its bid to wipe out Hamas.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that the fate of Hamas militants would be “the same and worse” as in the north, though Israel has yet to provide an estimate of how many Hamas fighters have been killed.

“We're moving ahead with the second stage now, a second stage that is going to be difficult militarily,” government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters.

Israel is facing global condemnation for the high death toll in the Gaza Strip, where local authorities say nearly 16,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children.

The US on Monday said it expects Israel to avoid attacking areas in southern Gaza that it identified as “no-strike” zones to allow Palestinian civilians to find safety during Israeli military operations.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was speaking daily with Israeli leaders about protecting civilians in Gaza, and would continue to push for the entry of more humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave.

Israel was open to “constructive feedback” on reducing harm to civilians as long as the advice is consistent with its aim of destroying Hamas, Mr Levy said.

Israel's air-and-ground offensive has pushed three-quarters of Gaza's 2.3 million residents from their homes – and new orders to evacuate areas around Khan Younis are cramming people into ever-shrinking areas of the tiny coastal strip.

At Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, ambulances brought dozens of wounded people in, including a young boy in a bloody shirt whose hand had been blown off, Reuters reported.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said one of its schools where people were sheltering took collateral damage from a nearby strike, killing four people and wounding seven.

Renewed misery in Gaza as Israel recommences air strikes – in pictures

Updated: December 06, 2023, 6:19 AM