The IDF on Wednesday claimed that were in the heart of Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, and were closing in on the residence of Hamas chief Yahya Sinawar.
According to the IDF, its 98th Division launched a combined attack on the area of the city of Khan Younis "against the centres of gravity of the Hamas terror organisation."
"Within a few hours, troops broke through the defences of Hamas’s Khan Younis brigade, encircled the city, and began to manoeuvre deeper inside it," the army said, adding that its men breached the defence lines in Jabaliya, Shejaiya, and Khan Younis.
"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," the IDF statement said. The troops also captured Hamas strongholds, located weapons and intelligence materials and destroyed over 30 tunnel shafts.
"The entire leadership of the Hamas terror organisation — 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu too sent a message to Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar that Israel was closing in on him. "The IDF Forces are currently surrounding Sinwar’s house. 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.
Though Khan Younis residents said Israeli tanks had neared Sinwar's home, they said it was not known whether he was there.
However, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari later clarified that no specific building serving as a residence for Sinwar was being encircled. He said that Sinawar's home was in the Khan Younis area. 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.
Meanwhile, the Israeli bombardment is forcing hundreds of Gazans to seek shelter near Egypt and in a desolate seaside area of the enclave.
Gazans crammed into Rafah on the border with Egypt based on Israeli leaflets and messages saying that they would be safe in the city.
Some of the displaced civilians were also fleeing to the desolate area of Al Mawasi on Gaza's southern Mediterranean coast. But, reports say that the town is unable to accommodate the more than 1.8 million Palestinians forced to evacuate their homes.
The small and narrow – about 1km (0.6 miles) wide and 14km (8.7 miles) long - Bedouin village lacks shelter, food and other necessities. Refugee organisations say there are no facilities. "There are no bathrooms. We cannot even wash if we want to pray," displaced Palestinian Enas Mosleh told Al Jazeera television. "It is a completely remote area."
Another Palestinian who fled to Al Mawasi, Ibrahim Mahram, said five families were sharing a tent and he slept on a sidewalk." We suffered from the war of cannons and escaped it to arrive at the war of starvation," he told the network."We divide one tomato between all of us."