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Israeli ground forces brought their pursuit of Hamas militants into southern Gaza on Monday, as civilians already unnerved by repeated airstrikes were left with diminishing options for finding safety.
Tanks, armored vehicles and troops were posted just outside the southern city of Khan Younis, whose outskirts were subjected to heavy bombardment earlier in the day.
Israel had told Palestinians in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, to head south toward the border town of Rafah to avoid getting caught in the anticipated combat. That led to massive displacement, in many cases of the same people who had fled the battered north, further deteriorating the enclave’s humanitarian crisis.
The evacuation area represented about one-fifth of Khan Younis, whose pre-war population of 117,000 has swelled during the conflict.
"For people ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
Thomas White, director of the U.N. agency for Palestinian aid known as UNRWA, described roads heading south jammed with people carrying what little they have in cars and carts pulled by donkeys.
“Even in Rafah where people are being forced to flee the sound of airstrikes punctuates the day,” White said in a post on the X platform. “People are pleading for advice on where to find safety. We have nothing to tell them.”
The Israeli military said its aircraft struck about 200 Hamas targets in Gaza overnight, and ground troops were operating in parallel. Reuters reported an airstrike in Rafah left a crater the size of a basketball court, killing a toddler.
“We were asleep and safe,” said Salah al-Arja, one of the homeowners whose house was destroyed. “They tell you it is a safe area, but there is no safe area in all of the Gaza Strip.”
Bombing resumes: Israel expands ground offensive in Gaza
∎ Phone and internet service was again down across Gaza on Monday evening, Palestinian telecom provider PalTel reported, keeping residents largely incommunicado from the outside world.
∎ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Tuesday with families of hostages held in Gaza, who are seeking more information about efforts to free their loved ones after negotiations for further releases of captives broke down.
∎ Netanyahu's corruption trial, which began in 2020 and was put on hold after the Oct. 7 attacks, resumed Monday. He faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
∎ CNN said at least nine family members of its producer Ibrahim Dahman were killed by an Israeli airstrike on his aunt’s northern Gaza house Sunday. Dahman, 36, had evacuated his young family to Egypt but his childhood home in Gaza City was destroyed by another strike the same day.
∎ Thousands of Israelis attended the funeral for Col. Asaf Hamami, 41, the commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, even though his remains are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Hamami was killed during the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel.
US blames Hamas for end of cease-fire
The White House said again Monday that a weeklong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ended because the Palestinian militant group failed to deliver hostages who should have been released.
“Hamas is refusing to release civilian women who should have been part of the agreement,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. “And it is that refusal by Hamas that has caused the end of the hostage agreement, and therefore the end of the pause in hostilities.”
Israel resumed its assault on the Gaza Strip on Friday after the release of more than 100 hostages held by Hamas, in exchange for Israel freeing 240 prisoners. Israel said Hamas "violated" the cease-fire and fired toward Israel. Hamas officials blamed the Israelis, saying they turned down offers to release elderly captives as well as the bodies of hostages.
− Michael Collins
UN hears testimony of Hamas rapes during Oct. 7 attacks
Evidence aimed at proving Hamas committed crimes of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel was presented at a U.N. meeting hosted Monday by the Israeli ambassador to the global body.
Gilad Erdan said the U.N. and its organizations "completely ignored for almost 60 days and still cast doubt" on the assaults. The evidence includes reports from first responders at the sites where militants struck and from military reservists who worked to identify the bodies of those killed, Erdan said.
Hamas issued a statement denying its militants committed sexual assaults, dismissing the claims as an effort to distort the Palestinian resistance and the "humane and moral dealings with detainees" militants have shown.
"The world has to decide who to believe," said Sheryl Sandberg, former Meta CEO and founder of the nonprofit group Lean In. "Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn't possibly have happened on Oct. 7? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last minutes of their lives?"
Sandberg told the gathering that "rape should never be used as an act of war" and that "silence is complicity."
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said last week that the reports of sexual assault "must be vigorously investigated."
Gaza Health Ministry death tally on par with Israel's
The Israeli military tacitly confirmed Monday the Gaza Health Ministry's death tally, which has been questioned by many including President Joe Biden, by saying at least 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza have died during the war.
The ministry's updated figure Monday was 15,899, not far from the estimate by Israel, which says 5,000 of the fatalities involved Hamas militants. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Its spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said women and children account for 70% of those killed.
Though the ministry is under Hamas rule, its death tolls from previous wars have stood up to scrutiny, and humanitarian agencies regard them as reliable. But as the fatality count in Gaza rose to alarming levels, the numbers were questioned by Israeli officials and even Biden, who on Oct. 25 said, "I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”
Did Hamas use advance knowledge of attack to get rich in stock market?
Hamas may have profited from stock deals that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for traders who short-sold some Israeli issues in advance of Hamas's brutal Oct. 7 attack.
"Trading on Terror?" a study led by two American researchers, says the traders may have known the attack was coming and would drive some Israeli stocks sharply lower. The report, published in the SSRN journal by Robert Jackson Jr. from New York University and Joshua Mitts of Columbia, does not mention Hamas but found that some traders with advance knowledge may have made hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Our findings suggest that traders informed about the coming attacks profited from these tragic events," the study says. "We do identify a sharp and unusual increase, just before the attacks, in trading in risky short-dated options on these companies."
Shorting a stock involves investing with the expectation a stock will decline in value. The Israel Securities Authority told Reuters the issue "is known to the authority and is under investigation by all the relevant parties."
Pentagon unsure whether USS Carney was target of attacks
The USS Carney responded to attacks against commercial ships and shot down three drones over the Red Sea on Sunday, but the warship may not have been a target of the hostilities, the Pentagon says.
The Carney was on patrol in the Red Sea when it responded to distress calls, the Pentagon said in a statement issued late Sunday. The warship detected an anti-ship ballistic missile attack fired from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen toward Unity Explorer, a Bahamas-flagged, U.K.-owned and operated bulk cargo ship crewed by sailors from two nations.
The Carney shot down a drone launched from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen that appeared headed toward the warship "although its specific target is not clear,'' the Pentagon said. "We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target of the UAVs."
The incident comes after Israel resumed bombardment of the Gaza Strip following a weeklong truce with Hamas, whose vicious Oct. 7 border attack on Israeli communities sparked the war. Israeli forces, which had been pounding northern Gaza, are now intensifying their efforts in southern Gaza as well.
"We are determined to continue to fight, dismantle Hamas, and bring all the hostages home," said Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
There was no damage or injuries reported on the Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The Pentagon initially described the incident as an attack on the Carney before providing more details. The Houthis claimed responsibility for assaults on commercial ships they believed were linked to Israel but made no mention of the U.S. warship.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas war updates: Ground forces chase Hamas in south Gaza