Thousands of Palestinians flee city in southern Gaza as fighting intensifies, head for Rafah; military spokesman says Hamas gunmen are ‘coming out from underground and fighting us’
The IDF said Wednesday evening that its troops had surrounded the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip and were operating in its center, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar that Israel was closing in on him, and rocket barrages from the Strip were fired at the southern city of Beersheba.
The military’s 98th Division “launched a combined attack on the area of the city of Khan Younis, against the ‘centers of gravity’ of the Hamas terror organization,” the IDF said. Within a few hours, troops broke through the defenses of Hamas’s Khan Younis brigade, encircled the city, and began to maneuver deeper inside it, the army said.
It said troops captured Hamas strongholds, locating weapons and intelligence materials. Soldiers killed “many” Hamas operatives in ground combat and airstrikes, and located around 30 tunnel shafts that were then destroyed during the ongoing battles, as well as a weapons depot inside a mosque.
“The entire leadership of the Hamas terror organization — political and military — grew up in the area of the city of Khan Younis, including Yahya Sinwar, Muhammad Sinwar, and Mohammed Deif. Now the city is surrounded by the 98th Division,” the IDF said.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Wednesday evening that troops were also making advances in the northern Gaza Strip, where they have been operating for more than a month: “In the last 48 hours, in Jabaliya, Shejaiya, and Khan Younis, we breached the defense lines. The terrorists are coming out from underground and fighting our forces. And our forces are winning in close-quarters combat. They have the upper hand.”
Netanyahu issued a video statement Wednesday evening saying that IDF forces were “currently surrounding Sinwar’s house,” adding: “His home isn’t his castle, and he can flee, but it’s just a matter of time until we get to him,” Netanyahu said.
Hagari later clarified that “Sinwar’s home is the Khan Younis area” — indicating that no specific building serving as a residence for Sinwar was being encircled. Sinwar is believed to have been in hiding in Hamas’s vast tunnel network since the terror group launched its deadly attacks on southern Israel on October 7.
“Sinwar is not above ground, but underground,” Hagari said. “I won’t elaborate on where exactly and what we know. Our job is to get to Sinwar and kill him.”
Sinwar is believed to be the mastermind of Hamas’s October 7 assault. He has not been seen publicly during the war, and Israeli leaders have vowed to take him out.
As IDF troops advanced on Khan Younis, the humanitarian situation worsened in south Gaza, with thousands fleeing further southward to Rafah and others desperately searching for basic supplies, with some accusing Hamas of stealing aid from civilians. Thousands fled Khan Younis as Israeli troops approached the city.
More than 75 percent of Gazans are thought to be displaced from their homes in the ongoing war, which was triggered when Hamas terrorists stormed across the border, killing around 1,200 Israelis and taking another 240 hostage, some 140 of whom are believed to still be held in the Strip. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 16,248 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, a figure that largely tracks with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives.
Before it launched its ground operation in north Gaza in late October, the IDF urged those living in the northern part of the Strip to head south as its troops advanced. Now, after the expiration of a temporary truce deal, troops have pushed further into the south, where Jerusalem believes Hamas leaders are hiding, leaving civilians feeling they have few places left to flee.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he expects “public order to completely break down soon, due to the desperate conditions” in Gaza. The humanitarian conditions during the war are “fast deteriorating into a catastrophe, with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole,” he wrote in a letter to the president of the Security Council.