Following constant calls from the US and UN to protect civilians, Israeli troops continued their air and ground assault on the southern Gaza Strip, killing and injuring hundreds of Palestinians.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, responded that it was too soon to judge whether Israel was doing enough to protect civilians and that it expected Israel not to strike zones it has designated as safe when questioned on Monday about the rising death toll since a truce between Israel and Hamas broke down on Friday.
Residents and journalists on the ground said the intense Israeli air strikes in the south of the densely populated coastal enclave included areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Israel to avoid further action that would make the already dire humanitarian situation in Hamas-run Gaza worse, and to spare civilians from more suffering.
“The Secretary-General is extremely alarmed by the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas… For people ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
Israel largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday they have swiftly pushed deep into the southern half.
Hamas ally Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said its fighters engaged in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers north and east of Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city.
Israeli tanks have driven into Gaza across the border and cut off the main north-south route, residents said. The Israeli military said the central road out of Khan Younis to the north “constitutes a battlefield” and was now shut.
Israel on Tuesday said three of its soldiers had died in combat in Gaza on Monday, in what Army Radio described as a day of fierce battles with Hamas fighters. Seventy-eight soldiers have died in Gaza since the start of the military’s ground invasion.
Israel launched its assault to wipe out Hamas in retaliation for an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen on border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival. The militants killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies – the deadliest single day in Israel’s 75-year history.
In eight weeks of warfare, the Gazan health ministry said at least 15,899 Palestinians, 70% of them women or under 18s, have been killed.
Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), said the resumption of Israel’s military operation was repeating “horrors from past weeks” by displacing people who had been previously displaced, overcrowding hospitals and further strangling the humanitarian operation due to limited supplies.
“We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza, whether in the south, or the southwest, whether in Rafah or in any unilaterally so-called ‘safe zone’,” he said.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated calls for Israel to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals.
“WHO received notification from the Israel Defense Forces that we should remove our supplies from our medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours, as ground operations will put it beyond use,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.