Khan Younes, in southern Gaza, was the scene of deadly fighting on Wednesday between Hamas and the Israeli army, which admitted to having begun to flood the tunnels of the Palestinian Islamist movement, one of the major tactical objectives of the war.
Meanwhile, the mediating countries are increasing their efforts to reach a new truce, almost four months after the start of the war triggered on October 7 by the bloody attack by Hamas on Israeli soil.
During the night, according to an AFP correspondent, heavy strikes and tank fire targeted Khan Younes, a largely destroyed town that had become the epicenter of the war.
The Hamas health ministry announced that 150 people had been killed in 24 hours across the territory.
Israeli aircraft “carried out dozens of raids against the center and west of Khan Yunis, causing dozens of deaths and injuries,” the Hamas government said.
According to the army, 15 “terrorists” were killed Tuesday in the fighting in the north of the Gaza Strip and ten others in the center.
Israel admitted on Tuesday that it had started flooding the tunnels dug by Hamas in the basement of Gaza since it took power there in 2007, a maze of galleries which constitute a trap for Israeli soldiers and where they have been held several hostages.
This vast network of concrete corridors, equipped with kitchens with access to water, is a real obsession for the Israeli army, which thus justifies its bombings of numerous hospitals and other civilian buildings supposed to hide tunnels.
Wednesday morning, according to witnesses, artillery fire targeted the Nasser hospital in Khan Younès, the largest in the south of the territory.
Thousands of civilians have taken refuge there as well as in the Palestinian Red Crescent hospital, al-Amal, near which staff have reported fighting.
“Left to our own devices”
“We left the Nasser hospital without mattresses, under bombings and airstrikes. We didn’t know where to go. We are in the cold, left to our own devices, without tents and without anything to survive,” testified a woman who fled to Rafah, about twenty kilometers further south.
In the devastated territory besieged by Israel, in the grip of a major humanitarian crisis, the bombings have pushed 1.7 million Palestinians, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million inhabitants, to flee their homes.
Most headed south as the fighting spread. More than 1.3 million displaced people, according to the UN, are now crowded into Rafah, trapped against the closed border with Egypt.
Adding to the population’s distress, the civilian aid operations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) are under threat after Israel accused 12 of the agency’s 30,000 regional employees of involvement in the attack of October 7.
That day, Hamas commandos from Gaza carried out an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil, which resulted in the death of 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures. .
In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a vast military operation which left 26,900 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Palestinian movement’s Ministry of Health.
Following the accusations against UNRWA employees, thirteen countries suspended their funding.
Withdrawing funds from UNRWA “would lead to the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, which would have far-reaching consequences,” warned heads of several UN agencies.
The Israeli government accused UNRWA on Tuesday of letting Hamas “use its infrastructure” to carry out its military activities and “hide terrorists”.
Meeting in Cairo
Meanwhile, the United States, Egypt and Qatar are working behind the scenes to try to convince Israel and Hamas to commit to a new truce, after that of a week at the end of November which allowed the liberation around a hundred hostages in Gaza in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
In total, some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip on October 7. According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages remain held there, 29 of whom are believed to have died.
The leader of Hamas, Ismaïl Haniyeh, based in Qatar, is expected in Cairo on Wednesday or Thursday, a leader of the movement announced to AFP in Gaza.
The Hamas delegation is to meet with “Egyptian intelligence officials,” according to the official, to discuss a truce proposal made during a recent meeting in Paris between CIA Director William Burns and Egyptian officials. , Israelis and Qataris.
Hamas “will insist on the need for a total cessation of the Israeli aggression”, “a withdrawal of the occupying forces and the return of the displaced to the north of the Gaza Strip”, declared this official, adding that the movement rejected “any proposal” from Israel which would concern “a partial and temporary ceasefire”.
Israel, for its part, refuses a ceasefire until Hamas, which it has classified as a terrorist organization like the United States and the European Union, is eliminated.
As the war in Gaza has reignited tensions across the Middle East, Yemeni Houthi rebels, allies of Hamas, claimed Wednesday to have targeted a US warship in the Red Sea, off the coast of Yemen, hours after the The American army said it had shot down a missile there.