Israel besieges hospitals as it widens offensive in Khan Younis

Palestinian families flee to Rafah from Khan Younis on the coastal road in southern Gaza on 22 January. 

Ismael Mohamad UPI

Israel is expanding its assault in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, besieging multiple hospitals and forcing the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Around 25,500 Palestinians have been reported killed during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza since 7 October, and another 63,350 have been injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The actual death toll is likely much higher as rescue workers have been unable to recover thousands of people reported missing, whether trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings or their bodies laying in the streets, particularly in areas where Israeli ground forces have deployed.

South Africa has asked the UN’s International Court of Justice to issue provisional measures to freeze Israel’s actions in Gaza, which they say violates the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The UN’s humanitarian chief said on Tuesday that “24 people were killed in strikes on an aid warehouse, UN center and humanitarian zone in the Khan Younis area” and that an aid distribution center “was heavily bombarded,” Reuters reported.

The Israeli military issued new forcible displacement orders targeting residential areas of Khan Younis, affecting more than half a million people, the vast majority of them already displaced.

The area that Israel ordered evacuated includes the Nasser Medical Complex, where some 18,000 displaced people were sheltering, as well as al-Amal hospital and the Jordanian hospital, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Israeli tanks are everywhere and we are completely surrounded,” Muhammad Harara, a doctor at Nasser Medical Complex, said in a video published on Tuesday:

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that a mass grave was dug at Nasser Medical Complex on Monday, bringing to 127 the number of mass graves it has documented in Gaza.

People in the areas of Khan Younis slated for forcible evacuation were ordered to move to al-Mawasi, where Israel has launched airstrikes and fired artillery shells since Monday, killing several displaced civilians, according to the Palestinian human rights groups Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Displaced people sheltering in al-Mawasi, which Israel had declared a “safe zone,” have come under Israeli fire as ground operations widen in the area.

The UK’s ITV news recorded footage of a group of civilians in al-Mawasi coming under fire while they were carrying a white flag and holding their hands in the air.

Before they were shot at, one of the men told ITV that his mother and brother were in a home with dozens of other people in an area where Israeli forces were operating, and they were trying to get to them.

After the cameraman completed the interview and walked away, the man, identified by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor as Ramzi Abu Sahloul, was shot and killed.

Telecommunications remain cut off in Khan Younis amid the ongoing Israeli assault. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that it had been largely cut off from its teams in the area.
“We remain extremely worried regarding the safety of our teams in Khan Younis and still call on the international community to intervene immediately,” Red Crescent spokesperson Nebal Farsakh said on Tuesday.

Eight Red Crescent paramedics have been killed while on duty in Gaza since 7 October, Farsakh said, as Israel has targeted healthcare personnel and facilities more broadly.

Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, the Red Crescent’s main facility in the territory, is no longer functioning “after being targeted and besieged, and now it looks like we’re facing the same scenario, the same fate again with al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis,” Farsakh added.

Israeli tanks had reached Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, the largest hospital still operating in Gaza, as well as the areas of al-Amal and al-Khair hospitals, the three Palestinian human rights groups said on Monday.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that one of its largest facilities being used as a shelter for displaced people was hit on Monday, killing six people.

Thousands of civilians are trapped in their homes and facilities being used as shelters for people displaced from other areas of Gaza as Israeli forces moved to isolate Khan Younis from Rafah, southernmost Gaza, the three Palestinian rights groups said.

Fears of “second Nakba” in Rafah

More than 1.3 million people are now concentrated in Rafah, according to the Palestinian human rights groups. Rafah had a population of 250,000 before Israel’s current offensive in Gaza.

The rights groups said that the latest developments indicate that Israel intends to cause a “second Nakba” – the first being the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland around the time of Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Israel’s current operations in Khan Younis point to Rafah being targeted next, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at risk, the Palestinian groups added.

An UNRWA spokesperson told Arab News that large plastic tents have been set up along Gaza’s border with Egypt in Rafah as displaced people increasingly concentrate in the area:

The spokesperson said that “there is absolutely no safe place [in Gaza], but we think that pushing more Palestinian residents to Rafah city is pushing things towards an explosion.”

A ground assault on Rafah would raise the alarm that Israel intends to force residents out of Gaza as it refuses to allow displaced people to return to the northern areas.

Israel has repeatedly denied humanitarian missions access to the hundreds of thousands people who remain in the north without access to food and water and adequate medical care.

Graphic video broadcast by Al Jazeera shows an injured man being carried in the scoop of a bulldozer after a group of people including journalist Imad Ghaboun were directly targeted in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, on Monday:

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said on Tuesday that it had documented the Israeli military’s use of lethal force against civilians who had gathered south of Gaza City in anticipation of the arrival of UN aid trucks.

“The Israeli army used artillery shells, live ammunition and quadcopter drones to attack hundreds of starving civilians who had gathered in the hopes of receiving the meager aid,” the human rights group said.

People in northern Gaza have been forced to eat the leaves of trees and animal feed mixed with corn after not receiving any assistance since the collapse of a temporary truce on 1 December, according to Euro-Med Monitor.

UN human rights experts, Palestinian and international human rights groups and international charities have accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza.

Euro-Med Monitor expressed its “outrage at the UN’s silence regarding the Israeli army’s targeting of civilians while they were trying to receive aid supplies.”

Palestinian human rights groups and humanitarian organizations have accused UN agencies of “aiding Israel’s war objectives in breach of international law” by showing deference to its “unlawful restriction of humanitarian relief.”

Soldiers killed while planting explosives

The Israeli military has reported 219 fatalities among its troops and more than 1,230 injuries since the beginning of its ground operations in late October.

On Monday, the Israeli military incurred its single largest reported fatality event during its ground invasion of Gaza and since Hamas’ 7 October military operation.

Twenty-one soldiers were killed after they were fired on by resistance fighters while planting explosives in two buildings in al-Maghazi refugee camp. Palestinian fire apparently set off one of the mines and caused the collapse of both two-story structures with the troops still inside.

The Israeli daily Haaretz said that the incident occurred in an area where the military had “operational control.” Israel’s continued losses at the hands of the Palestinian resistance is further indication of a stalemate in Gaza.

The soldiers were killed as they were carrying out an apparent war crime.

An Israeli military spokesperson said that the buildings in al-Maghazi had been “marked for demolition because they were situated in an area of Gaza that Israel unilaterally declared a ‘buffer zone,’” as The Intercept reports.

The spokesperson said that the military sought to “protect an Israeli kibbutz located a half mile from Gaza against possible future attacks,” The Intercept adds.

The publication noted that this appears to be the first public admission that the military is systematically destroying areas of eastern Gaza to depopulate them “in the name of security for nearby Israeli settlements.”

Unnamed Israeli officials told The New York Times that the military’s “goal was to create a buffer of up to roughly six-tenths of a mile along the entire length of Israel’s roughly 36-mile border with Gaza” to prevent future raids from Gaza and encourage the return of Israelis displaced from settlements in the area.

The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure is a violation of the laws of war, as is the acquisition of territory by force. The “buffer zone” as described by Israeli officials quoted by The New York Times would represent a significant area of Gaza’s territory, which is less than four miles wide at its narrowest point.

The Biden administration in Washington, which has been closely involved in Israel’s war plans, has said that it opposes any effective reduction of Gaza’s territory, which is already one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to backtrack on that position on Tuesday, saying that “transitional arrangements” may be needed for Israel’s security.

All of Gaza’s universities destroyed

Israeli troops have recorded videos of themselves destroying civilian infrastructure in Gaza in controlled demolitions like the one the soldiers killed in al-Maghazi were trying to prepare.

Last week, Israeli troops blew up Israa University in southern Gaza after using it as military barracks, Euro-Med said.

Nearly 100 university professors in Gaza who “taught across a variety of academic disciplines” were confirmed to have been killed during Israel’s offensive, “along with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students,” according to Euro-Med.

The Electronic Intifada contributor Refaat Alareer is among the university faculty targeted and killed by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Israel has destroyed every single university in Gaza, Euro-Med added, as well as other cultural institutions, further indicating the intentional targeting of “every aspect of life” in the territory.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller appeared to give Israel the benefit of the doubt when questioned about the controlled demolition of Israa University, telling reporters that “I don’t know what was under that building. I don’t know what was inside, inside that building.”

The three aforementioned Palestinian human rights groups said on Monday that Israeli forces had blown up hundreds of homes and other buildings during its ground attack in Khan Younis in recent days, with troops publishing videos of them celebrating the destruction.

Euro-Med Monitor said that “Israel’s widespread and intentional destruction of Palestinian cultural and historical properties … demonstrates its apparent policy of rendering the Gaza Strip uninhabitable.”

The rights group added that “the attacks are creating an environment devoid of basic services and necessities and may eventually force the Strip’s population to emigrate.”

A man interviewed for a video produced by the human rights group Al-Haq said that in al-Maghazi refugee camp, Israeli troops “didn’t leave any stones, or trees, they didn’t leave any people or animals.”

“All necessities of life in Gaza were destroyed,” he said.

UN chief: ceasefire, de-escalation “essential”

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, told the Security Council on Tuesday that “everyone in Gaza is hungry – with a quarter of Gaza’s population, more than half a million people – grappling with catastrophic levels of food insecurity.”

He said that “disease is spreading as the health system collapses.”

Guterres added that Palestinians in Gaza “not only risk being killed or injured by relentless bombardments; they also run a growing chance of contracting infectious diseases like hepatitis A, dysentery, cholera” and people with chronic diseases “are at risk of dying.”

In addition to denying humanitarian missions access to northern Gaza, “dozens of humanitarians have been waiting for months to receive their visas from the Government of Israel,” he said.

In addition to calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the UN chief added that “de-escalation is essential” in the Red Sea, where the de facto Yemeni state authorities have imposed a blockade in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The US and UK have hit Yemen with airstrikes following attacks on cargo ships.

Guterres also noted the “almost daily attacks on facilities hosting US and international coalition forces in Iraq and Syria” and airstrikes in Iran and Syria, which those countries have attributed to Israel.


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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.