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'In the heart of Khan Younis': Israel sweeps into major city in south Gaza: Updates

Editor's Note: For the latest news on the Israel-Hamas conflict, please see our live updates file here.

Israeli troops rolled into Khan Younis, the Gaza Strip's second-largest city, on Tuesday in what the Israeli military described as some of the most intense fighting of the war.

Major General Yaron Finkelman, commander of Israeli troops in southern Gaza, said his forces intended to continue attacking with land and air forces deeper into southern Gaza, where ground forces began their push in earnest a day earlier after weeks of pounding through northern Gaza.

Finkelman said his troops had numerous encounters with militants Tuesday, killing many of them.

"Fighters are operating in the terror strongholds of the terrorist organization Hamas and are conducting intense battles," Finkelman said. "We are in the heart of Jabaliya, in the heart of Shejaiya and starting tonight also in the heart of Khan Younis."

Israel says it won't stop its assault on Gaza until Hamas is crushed, although many leaders of the militant group's political wing operate out of Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey. The death toll in Gaza is already approaching 16,000 Palestinians and most of the 2.3 million population has been displaced.

Israel does not dispute the death toll but says it has killed more than 5,000 Hamas members. The Israelis blame civilian casualties on the militants operating in residential neighborhoods and using Palestinians as "human shields."

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Palestinians fleeing the Israeli ground offensive arrive in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Dec. 5, 2023.
Palestinians fleeing the Israeli ground offensive arrive in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Dec. 5, 2023.

Developments:

∎ The State Department said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers involved in the growing number of attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

∎ The Lebanese army said a military center was bombed "by the Israeli enemy," killing a soldier and injuring three others. It is the first reported death of a Lebanese soldier since the war began. The Israeli military said the Lebanese soldiers were not the target of the attack and issued a rare apology.

∎ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be tried for war crimes, accusing Netanyahu of endangering the security of the Middle East in an effort to extend his political life.

∎ The United States, Qatar and Egypt, which mediated the weeklong cease-fire that ended Friday, say they are working on a longer truce even though Israel called its negotiators home over the weekend.

∎ The U.S. Agency for International Development said Tuesday that the United States has pledged an additional $21 million in humanitarian assistance for Gaza to help establish a field hospital. White House Principal Deputy Secretary Olivia Dalton said the United States had also organized a second aid flight into Gaza with 36,000 pounds of food and medical supplies.

'Nowhere safe to go': Israel ground forces poised to strike in south Gaza: Updates

UN warns there are no safe zones in Gaza

The United Nations said Tuesday that there is limited humanitarian aid being delivered to Gaza. Only the Rafah region in southern Gaza is receiving aid because of intense hostilities.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said 100 aid trucks with humanitarian supplies and 69,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza from Egypt on Monday, about the same amount as Sunday. The number of aid trucks entering the enclave is well below the daily average of 170 trucks and 110,000 liters of fuel during the weeklong cease-fire, Dujarric added.

He reiterated that there are no safe places in Gaza and that “those places that fly the U.N. flag are not safe either.”

The U.N. said the fighting has made it impossible to distribute essentials like food, water and medicine to most people in southern Gaza.

“Shelters have no capacity, the health system is on its knees, and there is a lack of clean drinking water, no proper sanitation and poor nutrition,” said Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu says Israel to have security control of postwar Gaza

Netanyahu reiterated Tuesday his belief the Israeli military would have to maintain security control of the Gaza Strip for an indefinite time long after the war ends. His statement seemed to defy the expressed desires of the U.S., which has made it clear it opposes Israeli "reoccupation'' of the territory.

Netanyahu said Gaza would have to be demilitarized and that only the Israeli military would be up to the task.

“No international force can be responsible for this,” he said at a news conference. “I’m not ready to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”

The Biden administration has maintained that Palestinians should rule Gaza after the war, proposing a reformed Palestinian Authority as the best option. Less than a month ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined some of the conditions the U.S. envisions for the postwar enclave.

"No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza," Blinken said at a Nov. 8 news conference in Tokyo.

'Unimaginable' grief and hardship in Gaza's southern half

Speeding ambulances rushing to overcrowded hospitals were a frequent sight Tuesday in Khan Younis as the intensified bombardment by Israeli forces and the incursion of their ground troops upended life in Gaza’s southern half.

Witnesses said a school sheltering hundreds of displaced people was struck, sending scores of Palestinian casualties to nearby Nasser Hospital, where the wounded were lain on a bloody floor.

“What’s happening here is unimaginable,” said Hamza al-Bursh, who lives near the school. “They strike indiscriminately.”

Israel says it has been trying to direct civilians to safer zones, but many are unable to reach them, don’t get the information or find those areas under attack too.

At least 34 people were killed, including at least six children, when an airstrike destroyed a house where dozens of displaced people were seeking refuge in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, just north of Khan Younis, the Associated Press reported. Video showed men pulling the limp body of a child from under a slab next to a burning car.

Israel open to 'constructive feedback' about civilian harm

The Biden administration has been leaning heavily on Israel to minimize civilian deaths as it begins the southern Gaza part of its military campaign and to avoid the large loss of lives and displacement that resulted from attacks in the enclave's north.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said Tuesday that his country intends to follow that guidance, provided it doesn't hinder its ultimate goal of eradicating Hamas.

While warning about the difficult task ahead for Israeli soldiers pursuing Hamas militants in an area that has swelled with about 1 million refugees from the north, Levy said Israel is open to "constructive feedback'' about limiting harm to civilians and is already making such efforts.

“We didn’t pick the battlefield, Hamas picked the battlefield,” he told reporters.

Levy also said Israel is undeterred in its mission to crush the militant organization that sparked the war with its barbaric Oct. 7 assault on Israeli border communities.

"We are going to continue with our campaign to destroy Hamas, a campaign that the United States sees eye to eye with us about the strategic objectives of this war, that this war cannot end with Hamas still standing," he said.

Europe facing 'huge risk of terrorist attacks,' official says

The weekend assault that left a tourist in Paris dead may be only the beginning of holiday-period threats in Europe linked to the Israel-Hamas war, a high-ranking official said Tuesday.

Because of polarization from the war, the continent faces a "huge risk of terrorist attacks,'' European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told reporters in Brussels.

A German tourist was stabbed to death late Saturday by a man who also injured two other people with a hammer. The authorities said the suspect, who has a history of mental health problems, swore allegiance to the extremist Islamic State group and said he was upset about Muslims getting killed in Gaza and elsewhere.

Large demonstrations expressing either support for Palestinians or for Israel and condemning antisemitism have grown in European cities in recent weeks.

Johansson said she drew the threat conclusion based on the high security levels in some of the 27 EU member countries and an increase in reports of antisemitic incidents, along with more hate speech and extremist content online. “Taking all this together, I do the assessment that, yes, the threat is significant,” she said.

Israel says hostages were drugged before being released

Hostages freed by Hamas were drugged to make them appear calm and happy before being handed over to the Red Cross for transfer to Israel, an Israeli Health Ministry official said Tuesday. Ronit Endevelt, director of the ministry’s nutrition division, told the Kennesset's health committee the drug Clonazepam could make the hostages appear upbeat despite suffering physical abuse, deprivation and psychological terror during nearly two months of captivity in Gaza, the Times of Israel reported.

Endevelt did not say whether the drugging was determined through testing, testimony from freed hostages or both. In recent days, relatives of freed children have accused Hamas of drugging the youths during their captivity.

More than 240 people, most of them Israeli nationals, were seized when Hamas militants crashed across the border Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people before slipping back into Gaza with the hostages. More than 100 have been released. Family members say many returned malnourished, wounded, ill, infested with lice and/or deeply traumatized.

What it's like to flee war-torn Gaza

As Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza, some Palestinians living there are wondering whether they will ever be able to return to their communities. Naim Al-Khatib grabbed passports and whatever food was in the refrigerator before racing with his family to leave their home in Gaza City on Oct. 13 after warnings the area would become a military target. The public servant says relatives nearby "came barefoot, actually running on the street carrying small bags" of clothes and important items.

"During the night, we heard all the bombing around us and it was very scary," said Al-Khatib, 55. He calls the situation "very dire," not only because of the large-scale devastation, risk of disease and escalating death toll, but also, because of an uncertain future. Read more here.

Zulekha Nathoo

Journalists dying in Gaza at rate of 1 each day

At least 60 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed, several have been injured and others are missing since the war in Gaza began two months ago, the International Federation of Journalists said. The federation, along with the the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, condemned the killings and called for an immediate investigation into the deaths.

"I can say that in Syria, in Iraq, in ex-Yugoslavia, we didn’t see this kind of massacre,” said Anthony Bellanger, the federation's general secretary.

The group urged journalists to take precautions, wear professional safety equipment and not to travel without their media outlets providing them with professional safety equipment.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas war updates: Ground troops reach city in south Gaza