The Israeli military ratcheted up its air offensive in southern Gaza overnight as the country continues its ground invasion into the south of the territory.
Strikes were focused on Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city. Southern Gaza is estimated to house the entire Gazan population — about 2.3 million people — most already displaced from their homes.
Evacuation demands expanded to neighborhoods in and around Khan Younis on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported, impacting more than 150,000 more people.
Due to U.S. pressure, the Israeli military said it is being more precise in southern Gaza compared to earlier attacks in the north, when weeks of bombardments effectively leveled Gaza City.
Humanitarian leaders warned that already poor conditions and aid infrastructure would only worsen as the Israeli military advanced south — as civilians run out of safe places to flee. Gazans can not leave the territory, as borders are closed with neighboring Egypt.
“Nowhere is safe in Gaza; and there is nowhere left to go,” Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said Monday. “The conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza do not exist. If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold.”
About 15,900 Palestinians have died in the war so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. That significant and rising toll has sparked immense pressure on the Israeli and U.S. governments, as critics say the Israeli military strategy has put too many civilians at risk.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned that further civilian casualties would only assist Hamas in its war effort.
“In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population,” he said. “And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
Defense analysts warned that fighting in the extremely dense, urban Khan Younis could be the most difficult of the conflict.
The war in Gaza began in early October, after Hamas killed about 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack on border communities.
Fighting resumed Friday after a week-long pause to free nearly half of the approximately 240 hostages believed to be held by Hamas.