The assault on the south threatens further mass displacement within the besieged coastal territory, where the U.N. says some 1.87 million people — over 80% of the population — have already fled their homes.
Much of the north, including large parts of Gaza City, has been destroyed, and Palestinians fear the rest of Gaza could suffer a similar fate as Israel tries to dismantle Hamas, which has deep roots in the territory it has ruled for 16 years.
The Israeli military said Tuesday that its troops were “in the heart” of the southern city of Khan Younis after what it described as “the most intense day” of the Israeli war on Gaza since the start of the ground operation five weeks ago, with heavy battles in the north as well.
Pushed to the edge
For the past three days, aid distribution — mainly just supplies of flour and water — has been possible only in and around Rafah, on the southern border with Egypt, because of the Israeli war and road closures by Israeli forces, the U.N.'s humanitarian aid office said.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders said fuel and medical supplies have reached “critically low levels” at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah, north of Khan Younis. Up to 200 wounded people have been brought in every day since Dec. 1, when a weeklong truce expired, it said.
“Without electricity, ventilators would cease to function, blood donations would have to stop, and the sterilization of surgical instruments would be impossible,” said Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial, the aid group's emergency coordinator in Gaza. She said they are also running low on surgical supplies and external fixators for broken bones.
Gaza has been without electricity since the first week of the war, and Israel has severely limited fuel imports, forcing several hospitals to shut down because they cannot operate emergency generators.
Thousands of people have fled to the Rafah since Israel resumed its war after the cease-fire, including many from the north who have been displaced multiple times.
Hamza Abu Mustafa, a teacher who lives near a school-turned-shelter and is hosting three families himself, said: “The situation is extremely dire.”
“You find displaced people in the streets, in schools, in mosques, in hospitals … everywhere.”
A Palestinian woman who identified herself as Umm Ahmed said the harsh conditions and limited access to toilets are especially difficult for women who are pregnant or menstruating. “For women and girls, the suffering is double,” she said. “It’s more humiliation.”
Palestinian women have recently taken to social media to request menstrual pads, which are increasingly hard to find.
“I apologize for raising such a matter,” one user wrote on X, adding that 15 girls were staying in her house. “What are we supposed to do?”
Hundreds killed since cease-fire
The war has killed more than 16,200 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 42,000, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, which released new figures late Tuesday.
The ministry says hundreds more have been killed since the cease-fire ended Friday, and many still are trapped under rubble.
More than 100 Israeli captives were released during last week’s cease-fire, along with 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
But an estimated 138 captives remain in Gaza, mostly soldiers and civilian men, and accounts of widespread rape and other atrocities committed during the rampage have deepened Israel's outrage and further galvanized support for the war.
No end in sight
Hamas' continuing ability to fight in the north, where Israel entered with overwhelming force weeks ago, signals that eradicating the group without causing further mass casualties and displacement — as Israel's top ally, the U.S., has requested — could prove elusive.
The military says 88 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza war. A military official said this week that at least 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 5,000 militants, but did not explain how the army arrived at those figures.
Even after weeks of bombardment, Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar — whose location is unknown — was able to conduct complex cease-fire negotiations and orchestrate the release of scores of captives last week. Palestinian militants have also kept up their rocket fire into Israel.
After the full-scale evacuation of northern Gaza ordered by Israel early in the war, most of Gaza’s population was squeezed into 230 square kilometers (90 square miles) of central and southern Gaza.
Since moving into the south, the Israeli military has ordered people out of nearly two dozen neighborhoods in and around Khan Younis, further reducing the area where civilians can seek refuge by more than a quarter.
It was not clear how many people heeded the evacuation orders, as many Palestinians say they don't feel safe anywhere in Gaza and fear that if they leave their homes they will not be allowed to return.