Israel said on Tuesday that its troops had entered Gaza's second-largest city as intensified bombardment sent streams of ambulances and cars racing to hospitals with wounded and dead Palestinians, including children, in a bloody new phase of the war.
The military said its forces were in the heart of Khan Younis, which has emerged as the first target in the expanded ground offensive into southern Gaza that Israel says aims to destroy Hamas. Military officials said they were engaged in the most intense day of battles since the ground offensive began more than five weeks ago, with heavy firefights also taking place in northern Gaza.
The assault into the south threatens to fuel a new wave of displaced Palestinians and a worsening of Gaza's humanitarian catastrophe. The UN said 1.87 million people more than 80 per cent of Gaza's population have been driven from their homes, and that fighting is now preventing distribution of food, water and medicine outside a tiny sliver of southern Gaza. New military evacuation orders are squeezing people into ever-smaller areas of the south.
Bombardment has grown fiercer across the territory, including areas where Palestinians are told to seek safety. In the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, just north of Khan Younis, a strike Tuesday destroyed a house where dozens of displaced people were sheltering. At least 34 people were killed, including at least six children, according to an Associated Press reporter at the hospital who counted the bodies.
Footage from the scene showed women screaming from an upper floor of a house shattered to a concrete shell. In the wreckage below, men pulled the limp body of a child from under a slab next to a burning car. At the nearby hospital, medics tried to resuscitate a young boy and girl, bloodied and unmoving on a stretcher.
Israel's assault in retaliation for Hamas's October 7 attack has killed more than 16,200 people in Gaza 70 per cent of them women and children with more than 42,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which released new figures late on Tuesday. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. It says hundreds have been killed or wounded since a weeklong cease-fire ended on Friday, and many still are trapped under rubble.
Israel says it must remove Hamas from power to prevent a repeat of the attack that ignited the war, when Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took captive some 240 men, women and children.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday the military would have to retain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip long after the war ends. His comments suggested a renewed direct Israeli occupation of Gaza, something the United States says it opposes.
Netanyahu said only the Israeli military can ensure Gaza remains demilitarised. "No international force can be responsible for this," he said at a news conference. "I'm not ready to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement."
Meanwhile, damily members of hostages still held in Gaza held tense talks with Netanyahu and the war cabinet Tuesday. Observers present said more than 100 people attended the nearly three-hour meeting. Some relatives shouted at cabinet members, perceiving they did not have any immediate plans to rescue some 138 hostages still captive. Nearly half the room left in disappointment before the meeting ended.
During the gathering, five hostages released during the truce shared harrowing details of their experience. One spoke of Hamas fighters touching female hostages, and another said militants shaved off a male hostage's body hair to humiliate him, according to a group representing the hostages' families. Others said they were deprived of water.
A doctor who treated some of the 110 released hostages told the AP separately that at least 10 women and men among those freed were sexually assaulted or abused, but did not provide further details. He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the hostages' identities.
Noam Peri, whose 80-year-old father is still being held captive, said the meeting with Netanyahu and the war cabinet was not a relaxed discussion.
After 60 days, people are tired and worried, Peri said.