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The Israeli army continues its offensive in the south of Gaza

4 min

Israel stepped up its assault on Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Wednesday, pushing tanks westwards and prompting accusations from Jordan that its field hospital in the city had been badly damaged by nearby shelling.

Smoke rises from Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, January 17, 2024. Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Israel stepped up its assault on Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Wednesday, pushing tanks westwards and prompting accusations from Jordan that its field hospital in the city had been badly damaged by nearby shelling.

The Jordanian army said it held Israel responsible for a "flagrant breach of international law" in what it said was the damage to the facility as a result of Israeli shelling in the vicinity. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

People in and around another hospital, Nasser, fled as tanks approached the district overnight following an Israeli army statement that it had come under fire from the area. Hamas militants deny using health facilities for military operations.

Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed by Israeli air strikes that damaged homes near the hospital.

Many of the Nasser hospital staff have left for shelters further south, with just one doctor for more than 100 burn victims remaining, Sean Casey, World Health Organisation emergency medical teams coordinator in Gaza, said on Jan. 9.

Only about a third of Gaza's hospitals remain operational and some only partially.

Explosions from shelling and air strikes sounded further west in Khan Younis as the Israeli tanks moved on, with lines of thick black smoke rising from bomb sites. Witnesses said tanks and bulldozers had damaged a cemetery there before retreating to the city centre again.

Israel said it had killed six Palestinian fighters, including the southern district Hamas officer in charge of interrogating suspected spies.

The military said the killing of counter-espionage officer Bilal Nofal "significantly impacts the terrorist organisation's capacity to develop and enhance its capabilities" in a statement summarising its latest operations.

Further south in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people have moved on Israeli advice, people cried over several shrouded bodies, including of a young girl, Masa.

"We were asleep and then we found the missiles falling on us. We got up and couldn't see anything. We started checking on each other. The girl was martyred," said her aunt, Tahreer Shoman, adding that her siblings had been wounded but survived.

Israeli forces fought their way to the centre of Khan Younis more than a month ago and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday intense military operations in the south were drawing to a close, weeks after similar statements about northern Gaza.

Fighting raged in densely populated Jabalia in northern Gaza on Wednesday however, a day after Israeli tanks stormed back into parts of the north they had left last week.

Israel announced was scaling back its operations in northern Gaza in early January as part of what it said would be a more targeted approach in its war against Hamas militants after operations that have flattened entire residential districts.

COMMUNICATIONS BLACKOUT

Communications were down across Gaza on Wednesday for a sixth day, leaving its Palestinian inhabitants, most of whom have been forced to flee several times, unable to receive warnings on social media from the movement of Israeli forces.

The lack of local mobile phone signals also robs people trapped in the rubble left by Israeli air strikes of the means to call for help.

Palestinian health officials said 163 Gazans had been reported killed over the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 24,448 in Israel's war on Gaza, now in its fourth month.

Israel reported two more soldiers killed, taking the toll since it began ground operations in Gaza to 193.

Israel says it has killed 9,000 Hamas militants and has vowed to "eliminate" the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers after gunmen stormed into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people and captured 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Around half of the hostages were released in an October truce during which some Palestinian prisoners were also freed.

Israel has said the only way to secure the release of the rest of the hostages is military pressure on Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction. But more indirect negotiations have been taking place behind the scenes.

A U.S. official said "intensive discussions" had taken place in Qatar about the possibility of another deal.

"We're hopeful that it can bear fruit and bear fruit soon, because there's still, you know, over 100 — about 140 hostages still being held," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.

Qatar and France have brokered a separate deal with Israel and Hamas to deliver urgent medication to some 45 Israeli hostages held by the group in Gaza in return for humanitarian and medical aid for the most vulnerable civilians.

The aid left Qatar for Egypt on Wednesday and was due to be taken across the Rafah border crossing later in the day.

WEST BANK VIOLENCE

The conflict has spread to the West Bank, where more than 300 Palestinians have been killed and thousands arrested in raids Israel says are aimed at rooting out militants there.

The Israeli military said its forces had eliminated a "terrorist cell" during a precise air strike on a car near the Balata camp in the city of Nablus.

The military said it had killed Abdullah Abu-Shalal, the "head of terrorist infrastructure" of the camp, who it said had planned an imminent, large-scale terrorist attack with his cell members. Four other cell members were also killed, it said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said earlier that its teams had been prevented from reaching the wounded.

Hours later, four people were killed in an air strike in Tulkarm, location of one of the main crossing points between the West Bank and Israel and a frequent target of Israeli military operations since the Gaza conflict began.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Doha, Arafat Barbakh in Gaza, Tyrone Siu at the Gaza-Israel border, southern Israel, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Clauda Tanios in Dubai

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