February 28, 2024

By Josef Federman, Samy Magdy and Najib Jobain | Related Press

JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants carried out the deadliest single assault on Israeli forces in Gaza for the reason that Hamas raid that triggered the battle, killing 21 troopers, the navy stated Tuesday, a big setback that might add to mounting requires a cease-fire.

Hours later, the navy introduced that floor forces had encircled the southern metropolis of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second largest, and thick, black smoke may very well be seen rising over town as 1000’s of Palestinians fled south. Witnesses stated Israeli tanks and troops had additionally moved into Muwasi, a close-by coastal space that the navy had beforehand declared a secure zone for Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourned the Israeli troopers, who died when the blast from a rocket-propelled grenade triggered explosives they had been laying to explode buildings. However he vowed to press forward till “absolute victory,” together with crushing Hamas and liberating greater than 100 Israeli hostages nonetheless held by the militants.

Israelis are more and more questioning whether or not it’s potential to attain these battle goals.

Within the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault, outraged Israelis put aside lengthy simmering political variations and rallied behind the battle. Greater than 100 days later, divisions are re-emerging, and anger is rising over Netanyahu’s conduct of the battle. Households of the hostages have referred to as for Israel to achieve a cope with Hamas, saying time is operating out to deliver their kinfolk residence alive.

A senior Egyptian official stated Israel has proposed a two-month cease-fire by which the hostages could be freed in change for the discharge of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and prime Hamas leaders in Gaza could be allowed to relocate to different international locations.

The official, who was not approved to transient media and spoke on situation of anonymity, stated Hamas rejected the proposal and insists no extra hostages shall be launched till Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. Israel’s authorities declined to touch upon the talks.

Egypt and Qatar — which have brokered previous agreements between Israel and Hamas — had been creating a multistage proposal to attempt to bridge the gaps, the official stated.

‘ONE OF THE HARDEST DAYS’ FOR ISRAEL

Israeli reservists had been making ready explosives Monday to demolish two buildings exterior central Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, close to the Israeli border, when a militant fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank close by. The blast triggered the explosives, collapsing each two-story buildings onto the troopers.

Israeli media stated the troops had been working to create an off-the-cuff buffer zone, a few kilometer broad (0.6 miles) alongside the border to stop militants from attacking Israeli communities close to Gaza. Army spokesman Daniel Hagari stated the mission was to clear buildings to “create the circumstances” that will permit the residents of the south to return to their houses.

The US has stated it could oppose any try by Israel to shrink Gaza’s territory.

All through the battle, Israeli troops have used managed detonations to destroy buildings that the navy says disguise Hamas tunnels or have been utilized by militants as firing positions — one motive for the huge destruction wreaked by the bottom offensive. Blasts have destroyed whole metropolis blocks, condo complexes, authorities buildings and universities, fueling Palestinians’ fears that the territory will left unlivable.

At the very least 217 troopers have been killed for the reason that floor offensive started in late October, together with three killed in a separate occasion Monday, in keeping with the navy.

Netanyahu acknowledged on social media that it was “one of many hardest days” of the battle however vowed to maintain up the offensive.

“We’re in the midst of a battle that’s greater than justified. On this battle, we’re making huge achievements, just like the encircling of Khan Younis, and there are additionally very heavy losses,” he later stated in a video assertion.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas crossed the border Oct. 7, killing over 1,200 folks and abducting some 250 others. Greater than 100 had been launched in November throughout a weeklong cease-fire.

The offensive has induced widespread loss of life and destruction, killing no less than 25,490 folks — the bulk ladies and kids — and wounding one other 63,354, in keeping with Gaza’s Well being Ministry. Its rely doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants. An estimated 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million folks have been pushed from their houses in a humanitarian disaster that has left one-quarter of the inhabitants going through hunger.

TROOPS IN THE “SAFE ZONE”

With preventing raging in neighboring Khan Younis metropolis, witnesses stated that previously few days Israeli troops and tanks had entered elements of Muwasi. Beforehand, the navy had advised Palestinians to take refuge within the tiny rural space on the Mediterranean coast, saying it could be spared navy operations.

On Monday, troops stormed Al-Khair Hospital contained in the zone and struck the close by Al-Aqsa College the place displaced folks had been sheltering, in keeping with well being officers.

The advance despatched households who had fled to the world from preventing elsewhere fleeing as soon as extra, stated one witness, Aseel al-Muqayed. One important road “had been very crowded with displaced folks, you can hardly discover a place with out a tent. Now the world is sort of empty,” she stated, including that she had seen tanks now stationed close by.

The 21-year-old al-Muqayed has already been displaced a number of instances since her household evacuated from northern Gaza. They moved repeatedly, fleeing bombardment — her youthful brother and a cousin had been killed in a strike that hit certainly one of their refuges — and finally ended up in Khan Younis. She got here to Muwasi a number of days in the past, studying there was electrical energy there to cost her mom’s cellphone, and now was afraid to maneuver.

“For 2 nights, now we have not been capable of sleep because the sounds of tanks, gunfire and explosions are very shut,” she stated.

Inside Khan Younis, heavy preventing raged across the two important hospitals. Shelling hit the fourth ground of Al-Amal Hospital, the place a shell hit the fourth ground, killing one individual and wounding 10 others, in keeping with Raed al-Nems, a spokesperson for the Palestine Purple Crescent rescue service which runs the ability.

Shelling on Monday additionally hit a U.N. college within the metropolis sheltering displaced folks, killing no less than six folks, in keeping with the U.N. company for Palestinian refugees, often known as UNRWA.

Israel’s offensive has targeted for weeks on Khan Younis and a number of other city refugee camps in central Gaza, after the navy claimed to have largely defeated Hamas within the north.

Israel believes Hamas commanders could also be hiding in tunnels beneath Khan Younis, the hometown of the group’s prime chief in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, whose location is unknown.

PRESSURE FOR A CEASE-FIRE

The rising loss of life toll and dire humanitarian scenario have led to growing worldwide stress on Israel to cut back the offensive and comply with a path for the creation of a Palestinian state after the battle. The US, which has offered essential navy help for the offensive, has joined these calls.

However Netanyahu, whose reputation has plummeted since Oct. 7 and whose governing coalition is beholden to far-right events, has rebuffed each calls for.

As an alternative, he has stated Israel might want to develop operations and finally take over the Gaza aspect of the border with Egypt — an space the place some 1 million Palestinians are packed into overflowing U.N.-run shelters and sprawling tent camps.

That drew an indignant protest from Egypt’s authorities, which rejected Israeli allegations that Hamas smuggles in weapons throughout the closely guarded frontier.

Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Info Service, stated Monday that any Israeli transfer to occupy the border space would “result in a critical risk” to relations between the 2 international locations, which signed a landmark peace treaty over 4 many years in the past. Egypt can be deeply involved about any potential inflow of Palestinian refugees into its Sinai Peninsula.

This story has been up to date to appropriate that the assault on Israeli troopers occurred close to Maghazi, not in Maghazi.

Magdy reported from Cairo and Jobain from Rafah, Gaza Strip. Related Press author Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.