Israel’s military said on Tuesday that it had encircled the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, a significant step in its effort to defeat Hamas. The push has resulted in intense fighting and bombardments in an area packed with civilians who have fled from their homes in other parts of the territory.
The Israeli military described the area as a “significant stronghold” of Hamas’s Khan Younis brigade and said that it had killed dozens of Hamas fighters over the previous 24 hours. The military’s claims could not be independently verified.
Israeli forces “targeted terrorist cells carrying R.P.G.s near the troops, those launching anti-tank missiles, and terror operatives who had rigged compounds with explosives,” the military said in a statement, referring to rocket-propelled grenade launchers. “Ready-to-launch rockets, military compounds, shafts, and numerous weapons were located during the activity,” the military added.
The fighting has involved heavy exchanges of gunfire and a surge of Israeli tanks and troops into areas around the city’s hospitals.
A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said on Monday that Israeli forces had essentially besieged the entire Khan Younis district. The organization said that the presence of Israeli troops near Al-Amal Hospital, which it operates, meant that ambulances could not reach the injured in Khan Younis and that anyone moving in the area was being fired upon.
The health authorities in Gaza have said in recent days that more than 25,000 people there have been killed since Israel began its campaign to defeat Hamas, adding that more than 63,000 others had been injured.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel began the campaign after Hamas attacked the country on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking around 240 people hostage, according to the Israeli authorities. More than 100 of those hostages remain in captivity.
Israeli forces, using thousands of airstrikes and a ground invasion, largely secured military control of northern Gaza before pushing south. The United Nations said this month that more than 60 percent of homes in Gaza had been damaged or destroyed during the campaign, while almost all of the strip’s 2.2 million people have been displaced from their homes.