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Gaza City Dec. 5, 5:46 p.m.
Israeli troops are fighting in “the heart” of southern Gaza’s largest city, a military commander announced on Tuesday, describing some of the heaviest combat of the two-month war amid growing concerns that there is almost nowhere left for civilians to flee.
After days of warning civilians to leave the city, Khan Younis, Israeli forces stepped up their attacks overnight. Intense bombing was heard early Tuesday from inside Nasser Hospital, the city’s largest, where many Palestinians who have sought shelter were sleeping in hallways.
In the days since the collapse of a seven-day truce, as Israeli forces have turned their focus to southern Gaza to root out what they say are Hamas fighters holed up there, Biden administration officials have said they had warned Israel to work harder to avoid harming Gazan civilians than it did in the war’s early weeks, and that Israel’s military appeared to be heeding that advice.
But more than 300 people were killed in Gaza each day between Saturday and Monday, according to figures released by Gazan health officials, a daily toll that resembled those from the earlier weeks of the war. The U.N. humanitarian office said that the period from Sunday to Monday afternoon “saw some of the heaviest shelling in Gaza so far.”
Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, was densely populated before the war, and it has become more crowded as people have fled the north to escape Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion.
Even before Israeli forces said on Tuesday that they were fighting in “the heart” of the city, conditions there were grim, with little access to running water or sanitation. People sleep in the open, and aid workers have largely stopped distributing water and flour because of the intensity of the fighting and Israeli bombardments, U.N. officials have said.
A State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said on Monday that Hamas had “reneged” on an agreement to release all the women it was holding hostage, and that the group’s officials “were never able to provide a credible reason why.”
“We hope they will change their mind and release those women,” he said at a news conference in Washington.
The United States is in discussions with its allies to set up a naval task force to guard ships traveling through the Red Sea after the latest attack on several commercial vessels in what appears to be an escalating extension of Israel’s war with Hamas by Iranian-sponsored proxy forces.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on Monday that such patrols or escorts could be the appropriate response to the targeting of ships in the region. He compared the mission to similar task forces in the Gulf, where Iranian naval forces have at times been aggressive with other ships, and off the coast of Somalia, where pirates have preyed on private vessels in the past.
Reporting inside Gaza is extremely challenging right now. Israel has prevented journalists from entering the region except when accompanied by its military, and then only under certain conditions, while Egypt, along its border, is also blocking access. Communications have been limited, in part because of the Israeli siege of the enclave. Many Palestinian journalists in Gaza have been killedin airstrikes. And even before the war, Hamas restricted what reporters could cover in Gaza, limiting their movement, interrogating their sources and translators and expelling foreign reporters for work deemed objectionable.
The Times, along with other news organizations, has asked the governments of Israel and Egypt for direct access to Gaza because reporting on the ground is vital to understanding this crisis. Throughout the war, The Times has been working with journalists who were already in Gaza when the siege began. We have been interviewing residents and officials in Gaza by phone and using digital apps. We have asked people in the area to share their stories with us on video, which we then confirm are real. We also verify photos and social media posts using similar techniques, scrutinizing them to determine where and when they were taken or written and cross-checking with other sources, such as satellite imagery. We cross reference any information we gather with interviews with the U.N. and other international organizations, many of which have employees in different parts of Gaza.
In general, we try to avoid relying on a single source and we seek to include detailed information whenever possible”