Israel has ordered residents out of the centre of Gaza’s main southern city Khan Younis and pounded the length of the enclave, while reporting the loss of another five of its soldiers.
Four soldiers were killed in the battle in Southern Gaza, while the fifth succumbed to his wounds after fighting on October 7, according to the Israeli army statement posted on X.
Since a truce with Hamas in the two-month-old war collapsed on December 1, Israel has expanded its ground assault into the southern half of the Gaza Strip, pushing into Khan Younis, where residents reported fierce battles. Both sides also reported a surge in fighting in the north.
Israel said its campaign was making progress. National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israeli forces had killed at least 7,000 Hamas militants, without saying how that estimate was reached, and military chief Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi told soldiers “we need to press harder”.
An official toll of deaths in Gaza from the Palestinian health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave exceeded 17,700 on Saturday, with many thousands missing and presumed dead under the rubble. The ministry has said about 40 per cent of deaths were of children under 18.
Israeli forces say they are limiting civilian casualties by providing maps showing safe areas, and blame Hamas for harming civilians by hiding among them, which the fighters deny. Palestinians say the campaign has turned into a scorched-earth war of vengeance against the entire population of an enclave as densely populated as London.
Israel’s Arabic-language spokesperson on Saturday posted a map on X highlighting six blocks of Khan Younis to evacuate “urgently”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday welcomed Washington’s veto at the Security Council a day earlier to reject a vote backing a humanitarian ceasefire resolution, saying: “Israel will continue our just war to eliminate Hamas.”
Washington has said it told Israel to do more to protect civilians but still backs Israel’s position that a ceasefire would benefit Hamas. On Saturday, the Biden administration bypassed the US Congress to approve an emergency $106 million sale of ammunition to Israel.