Israel Launches Ground Operations in Southern Gaza: Impact and Precautions

In a significant development, Israeli forces have begun pushing into southern Gaza around Khan Younis, confirming the launch of ground operations. This escalation comes after the week-long ceasefire ended on Friday, and Israel resumed its large-scale bombing campaign on Gaza. The move has raised concerns about the escalating violence and its impact on the already dire humanitarian situation in the region.

The Israeli army radio initially reported the ground operations, which were later verified by pictures on social media showing an Israeli tank near Khan Younis. The head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Lt General Herzi Halevi, addressed reservists from the Gaza division, stating that the IDF was fighting “strongly and thoroughly” in both northern and southern Gaza. With Hamas releasing 110 hostages in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians during the ceasefire, tensions remained high.

Residents of Khan Younis have described the recent wave of attacks as the heaviest they have experienced so far. The shift in focus to the south has led to a “degree of panic” as reported by a UN official at a local hospital. The severity of the situation has transformed Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Younis into a “warzone”, according to James Elder from the children’s agency Unicef.

Despite Israeli claims of making “maximum effort” to avoid civilian casualties, reports from the hospital indicate an increasing number of children with head injuries, severe burns, and shrapnel wounds. The desperation of the affected families is evident, with nowhere safe to seek refuge. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has reported over 500 deaths since the resumption of bombing, bringing the total death toll in the strip to more than 15,500 since the war began.

The retaliatory bombing by Israel began following Hamas’s attacks on southern Israel earlier in the month, resulting in significant casualties and hostage situations. Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza towards Israel, causing injuries and further escalating the conflict. With hundreds of thousands of people already displaced, the latest UN update estimates that 1.8 million people are internally displaced in Gaza.

The IDF has started posting maps of areas targeted for attack online, along with other measures like phone calls and leaflet drops, in an attempt to warn civilians to evacuate. However, concerns remain about the difficulty in protecting civilians due to Hamas embedding its military presence within civilian neighborhoods. While the IDF claims to provide advance warning, the volatile situation makes it challenging to guarantee the safety of non-combatants.

As the violence intensifies, the international community is closely watching the situation. The United States has set clearer red lines for Israel, urging restraint and a de-escalation of the conflict. Human rights organizations have expressed deep concerns over the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, describing them as being pushed into an increasingly narrow corner of an already limited territory.

Amidst the ongoing conflict, it is crucial to prioritize the protection of civilian lives and ensure access to essential services and humanitarian aid. Both sides need to engage in meaningful dialogue to de-escalate tensions, seek a diplomatic resolution, and address the underlying issues fuelling the conflict. The international community must actively engage in diplomatic efforts to bring about a sustainable ceasefire and work towards a long-term peace agreement in the region.