Israel expands Gaza ground offensive, vows to hit the south with ‘no less strength’ than the north

by Ryan Lee
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The Israeli military has intensified its ground offensive throughout the Gaza Strip, announcing on Sunday a broadened campaign that encompasses all regions of the area. This escalation comes with additional evacuation orders and a pledge to target southern Gaza with the same force as used in the north, which has already witnessed significant devastation.

The escalation saw intense bombardment following evacuation orders, leaving Palestinians in the sealed-off territory, which borders both Israel and Egypt, with diminishing refuge options.

As the conflict, ignited by a Hamas-led attack in Israel on October 7 that resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths, predominantly civilians, progresses, the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have sought shelter in the south, moving away from the north where Israel had previously advised civilians to evacuate.

Nighttime in central Gaza, particularly in the town of Deir al-Balah, was marked by gunfire, shelling, and the glow of flares, while Israeli drones were active over Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city. Amidst this, UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk called for an end to the war, citing unbearable civilian suffering.

Residents of Khan Younis reported that the military designated their area as a “dangerous combat zone” and instructed them to relocate to Rafah or a southwestern coastal region. Despite such orders, many, like Halima Abdel-Rahman, a widow and mother of four, have become skeptical of these directives due to the ubiquitous danger across Gaza.

The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza reported over 15,500 deaths and more than 41,000 injuries since October 7, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants, and stated that women and children comprise 70% of the fatalities.

Further complicating the situation, ballistic missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck three commercial vessels in the Red Sea, adding to the series of maritime incidents connected to the broader Middle East conflict.

Efforts towards another cease-fire in Gaza were dampened as Israel recalled its negotiators, and Hamas insisted on linking hostage release talks with a permanent truce.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed Israel’s commitment to continue the war until achieving its objectives, including the displacement of Hamas from Gaza. The preceding truce enabled the exchange of 105 hostages for 240 Palestinians held by Israel, with most being women and children.

In the U.S., efforts are ongoing to restart negotiations, with Vice President Kamala Harris emphasizing America’s opposition to forced Palestinian relocation and changes to Gaza’s borders.

On the ground in Gaza, the aftermath is marked by fear, grief, and devastation. Israel maintains that its strikes are targeted and accuses Hamas of endangering civilians by operating in residential areas.

Amidst these developments, the UN estimates nearly 1.8 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza, with the majority sheltering in UN facilities.

Regional dynamics are further strained as Hezbollah targets Israeli positions near the Lebanon-Israel border, and Iraqi militants strike a U.S. base in Syria, followed by a U.S. airstrike in response near Kirkuk, Iraq.

This report was contributed to by various journalists, including those based in Beirut, Cairo, Baghdad, Athens, Tel Aviv, and Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gaza Offensive

What is the current situation in the Gaza Strip?

The Israeli military has escalated its ground offensive across the entire Gaza Strip, following an earlier evacuation order and committing to strike southern Gaza with equal intensity as the north. This has led to a significant increase in civilian casualties and displacement, with the majority of Gaza’s population seeking refuge in the south. The conflict was triggered by a Hamas-led attack in Israel on October 7.

How has the international community responded to the conflict?

The United Nations and various international leaders have called for an immediate end to the conflict, citing the severe humanitarian impact, especially on civilians. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has emphasized America’s stance against forced Palestinian relocation and any alteration to Gaza’s borders, and efforts are ongoing to resume ceasefire negotiations.

What are the implications of the conflict in the broader Middle East region?

The conflict has influenced regional tensions, evident in the recent ballistic missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces near the Lebanon-Israel border. These incidents highlight the complex and interconnected nature of Middle Eastern conflicts.

What is the reported death toll and displacement in Gaza since the conflict began?

Since the conflict began on October 7, the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported over 15,500 deaths and more than 41,000 injuries. Additionally, the United Nations estimates that 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced, with a significant number taking shelter in UN facilities.

What are Israel’s objectives in the ongoing conflict?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the war will continue until all of Israel’s goals are met, which includes the removal of Hamas from power in Gaza. The Israeli military asserts that it targets Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants’ operations in residential areas.

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