Stormy weather hits displaced Palestinians

Masses evacuate Khan Younis as IDF says many gunmen killed in city

Army releases footage in which evacuating Gazans are seen chanting ‘Down with Hamas’; alleges the terror group is blocking evacuation ‘using threats and violence’

Palestinians fleeing from combat areas in Khan Younis to Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, January 26, 2024. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Masses of Palestinians were seen fleeing combat areas in western Khan Younis in southern Gaza Saturday, in videos posted on official social media channels, after the military called for residents to evacuate to the nearby al-Mawasi area. Images showed thousands of civilians fleeing the city on foot.

Israel pressed ahead with its campaign against Hamas in the city, while bad weather hit displaced Palestinians seeking refuge further north in the battered enclave.

Residents reported heavy aerial and tank fire across Khan Younis, a part of southern Gaza that has become the focus of Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas, and around two main hospitals there.

The IDF said intensive fighting continued in the area as its 98th Division advanced, killing numerous Hamas operatives.

Amid the offensive, the IDF said the division’s Commando Brigade directed an airstrike against three Hamas operatives who were attempting to plant explosive devices near the troops. Meanwhile, the Maglan commando unit raided several Hamas sites in Khan Younis, including a weapons depot, and the Egoz commando unit “eliminated many armed terrorists at close range,” the IDF said.

Also in Khan Younis, the IDF said the Givati Brigade killed “a large number” of Hamas operatives in several separate clashes.

The IDF Spokesperson said that the military had opened a “safe humanitarian corridor to allow residents of western Khan Younis to move west from the combat zone to the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi in order to maintain their safety.”

“The safe corridor is open every day to evacuate residents, as the IDF avoids targeting civilians in the region during its fight against the terrorist Hamas terror group,” the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adrae wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday, adding that tens of thousands of residents had passed safely through the corridor in recent days.

Adrae also alleged that some Gazan civilians had communicated with the IDF that “Hamas was preventing them from leaving the area using threats and violence,” and that soldiers had helped displaced civilians “including the elderly and the sick” during their passage out of Khan Younis.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known by its acronym COGAT, published a video on Saturday showing hundreds of Gazans passing through the corridor, chanting “Down with Hamas.”

“In recent days, we’ve seen more and more evidence of public criticism voiced by the residents of Gaza against the Hamas terror organization,” said the head of COGAT Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian.

“The residents of the Gaza Strip rightly prefer their well-being and the safety of their children over the continued military build-up of Hamas and the acts of terror that harm them and their future,” he said in a Facebook post.

On Friday morning, the IDF called on residents of a number of neighborhoods in western Khan Younis to evacuate to southern Gaza as the military’s ground offensive expands.

The IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman published a map of the zones that need to be evacuated alongside the announcement, including the al-Nasr and al-Amal neighborhoods, the Khan Younis refugee camp (a historical name unrelated to the war), and the city center.

“They besieged us, so we fled,” said Tahani al-Najjar, who left Khan Younis with her daughter. “We call on the UN to intervene, to stop the war. Enough of fear and terror!”

Residents and Hamas also reported fighting on Saturday in the central and northern parts of the enclave, where heavy rain flooded the tents of those displaced, forcing some to seek alternative shelter in the middle of the night.

In the largest operation in a month, Israeli forces encircled and pushed through Khan Younis over the past few days, where many Palestinians sheltered after leaving northern Gaza, the early focus of the war.

The UN estimates that some 1.9 million Gazans are currently displaced due to the war, with many being forced to find shelter in tent cities or makeshift camps and slums sprouting up in parts of the Strip.

At Khan Younis’s Nasser Hospital, the largest in the city, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said surgical capacity was “virtually non-existent.”

The charity said the hospital’s services had “collapsed” and the few staff who remained “must contend with very low supplies that are insufficient to handle mass casualty events.”

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 350 patients and 5,000 displaced people remained at the hospital as fighting continued nearby.

Children gather in front of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and Hamas continue. (AFP)

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli tanks targeted the Al-Amal hospital, another of the city’s few remaining medical facilities, and that it was “under siege with heavy gunfire.”

“There is no longer a healthcare system in Gaza,” MSF said.

There were 300 to 500 patients trapped at the Nasser hospital with “war-related injuries such as open wounds, lacerations from explosions, fractures and burns.”

The Israeli military accuses Hamas of operating from tunnels under Gaza hospitals and of using the medical facilities as command centers. It has issued footage from Hamas tunnels discovered underneath several hospitals.

The war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages of all ages, mostly civilians.

Vowing to destroy the terror group, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign, which the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says has killed over 26,000 people and wounded some 64,000 people. The figures are unverified and are believed to include close to 10,000 Hamas operatives Israel said it has killed during fighting in the Strip, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that more than 100 Hamas operatives had been captured by Israeli troops in Gaza in recent days, including some who surrendered after hiding in tunnels.

“Hamas is collapsing into its own tunnels that it painstakingly dug. Every place it thought would be a trap for IDF soldiers becomes an area where we hit it,” Gallant said to soldiers of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit during a visit to their base in southern Israel.

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