Israel expands Gaza ground offensive as fears of wider conflict intensify 'after US warship attacked in Red Sea'

Israel expands Gaza ground offensive as fears of wider conflict intensify 'after US warship attacked in Red Sea'

A ground offensive has expanded to every part of Gaza, the Israeli military said on Sunday, as fears of a wider conflict intensified after a US warship came under attack in the Red Sea, according to US officials.

Israeli authorities ordered more evacuations in the crowded south of Gaza as they vowed that operations there against Hamas would be "no less strength" than the earlier efforts in the north.

Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory that borders Israel and Egypt.

The United Nations estimates that 1.8 million Gazans have been displaced. Juliette Toma, director of communications at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said nearly 958,000 of them were in 99 UN facilities in the south.

After dark, gunfire and shelling could be heard in the central town of Deir al-Balah as flares lit the sky. In Gaza's second-largest city of Khan Younis, Israeli drones buzzed overhead. UN human rights chief Volker Turk urged an end to the war, saying civilian suffering was "too much to bear."

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the death toll there since October 7 has surpassed 15,500, with more than 41,000 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but said 70 per cent of the dead were women and children.

A Health Ministry spokesman asserted that hundreds had been killed or wounded since a weeklong cease-fire ended Friday.

"The majority of victims are still under the rubble," Ashraf al-Qidra said.

An Israeli military tank rolls near the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday (AFP via Getty Images)
An Israeli military tank rolls near the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday (AFP via Getty Images)

Fears of a wider conflict intensified. A US warship and multiple commercial ships came under attack in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed attacks on two ships they described as being linked to Israel but did not acknowledge targeting a US Navy vessel.Hopes for another temporary truce in Gaza were fading. The cease-fire facilitated the release of dozens of the roughly 240 Gaza-held Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

But Israel has called its negotiators home, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the war will continue until "all its goals" are achieved. One is to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said resuming talks with Israel on further exchanges must be tied to a permanent cease-fire.

Israel's military widened evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis in the south, telling residents of at least five more areas to leave. Residents said the military dropped leaflets saying "Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone" and ordering them to move south to the border city of Rafah or a coastal area in the southwest.

In southern Gaza's Nasser Hospital, a young man cradled the lifeless body of his brother then reached out to try to grab a medic running past him in the corridor.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Nearby, doctors stepped over bodies and pools of blood as they rushed to their next case, and relatives brought more dazed and sometimes unconscious children through the main doors.

The UN and aid groups say dozens of medics have been killed since the war began and basic supplies, including fuel to run generators, are running short in hospitals and clinics.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas in response to the October 7 rampage by the militants, when gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Elsewhere in Khan Younis, families gathered at funerals.

One man, Akram el-Rakab, said he was burying his son as well as a sister and a nephew. He said he was praying to God to help Palestinians stay strong and would stay where he was in the city.