Israeli air strikes on residential blocks in south Gaza, on Saturday, November 18, 2023, killed no fewer than 32 Palestinians after Israel again warned civilians to relocate as it girds for an assault on Hamas in the enclave’s south after subduing the north.
Such an offensive could compel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from the Israeli storming of Gaza City to move again, along with residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, compounding a dire humanitarian crisis.
Israel vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip after its October 7 rampage into Israel in which its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged 240 hostages into the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza City – the enclave’s urban core – to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the northern half of the narrow strip and displaced around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.
Many of those who have fled fear their homelessness could become permanent.
Gaza health authorities raised their death toll on Friday to more than 12,000, including 5,000 children.
Overnight on Saturday, 26 Palestinians were killed and 23 wounded by an air strike on two apartments in a multi-storey block in a busy residential district of Khan Younis, according to health officials.
Eyad Al-Zaeem told Reuters he lost his aunt, her children, and her grandchildren in the air strike in Khan Younis, adding that all had evacuated from north Gaza on Israeli army orders only to die where the army told them they could be safe.
“All of them were martyred. They had nothing to do with the (Hamas) resistance,” said Zaeem, standing outside the morgue at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis where 26 bodies were laid out before they were to be carried by loved ones to burials.
A few km (miles) to the north, six Palestinians were killed when a house was bombed from the air in the town of Deir Al-Balah, according to health authorities.
An Israeli military statement on Saturday made no mention of air strike locations.
It said only that over the past 24 hours its air force hit dozens of Gaza targets including militants, command centres, rocket launch sites and munitions factories.
A senior aide to Israel’s prime minister urged Palestinian civilians on Friday to relocate away from Khan Younis as Israeli forces would have to advance into the city to oust Hamas fighters dug into underground tunnels and bunkers – suggesting an Israeli ground offensive into the south was imminent.
The pending Israeli advance into south Gaza may prove more complicated and deadlier than in the north, however, with the civilian population swelled by some 400,000 evacuees and fiercer fighting expected with militants dug into the Khan Younis region, a powerbase of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, according to a senior Israeli source and two ex-top officials.