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Israel’s intense offensive in Southern Gaza examined

Israel-Gaza conflict, Southern Gaza offensive, Khan Younis, Hamas, ceasefire collapse, civilian casualties, international diplomacy, regional tensions

Over the last week, in a significant escalation of the ongoing conflict, Israel has launched a major ground offensive in the southern region of Gaza. The epicentre of this military campaign is Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza, where Israel claims senior Hamas commanders are taking refuge.

According to reports from Hamas-controlled health departments, the Israeli air strikes across Gaza have resulted in hundreds of Palestinian fatalities. In response, Israel claims that it successfully targeted over 400 sites associated with what it describes as terrorist activities.

Since October 7th Action on Armed Violence, a London-based charity which monitors the causes and consequences of explosive violence globally, has recorded 659 discrete incidents of explosive weapons use in Gaza, as reported by English-language media. These have caused at least 9,571 civilian casualties (6,799 killed, 2,772 injured), including at least 536 children, 228 women, and 276 men. Civilians account for 99% of the total 9,704 casualties recorded across these incidents.

As the Israeli forces press deeper into Khan Younis, they are also contending with Hamas fighters in northern Gaza. The conflict’s resurgence follows a fragile seven-day truce that crumbled last Friday. The ceasefire’s breakdown was precipitated by an attack in Jerusalem, where three Israeli civilians were fatally targeted, an act later claimed by Hamas.

During the short-lived ceasefire, Hamas had released a total of 105 hostages, some 81 Israeli women and children, and 24 foreign nationals. In a reciprocal gesture, Israel had freed 240 Palestinian prisoners. However, accusations from both sides about the truce’s collapse quickly surfaced. Israel blamed Hamas for not releasing all female hostages and resuming rocket attacks, while Hamas accused Israel of rejecting its offer to release a different group of hostages, including the elderly.

The possibility of a renewed truce, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, suffered further setbacks when Israel withdrew its negotiators from talks in Qatar last Saturday.

These developments come amid an intensification of Israel’s military actions in southern Gaza. The United Nations has expressed grave concerns about the plight of civilians in this densely populated region, where approximately two million people, many displaced from northern areas, are now trapped.

The international community, including the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has pressed Israel to minimise civilian casualties. Austin warned that failure to protect non-combatants could lead to a “strategic defeat” for Israel, potentially bolstering regional support for Hamas. In a related development, escalating regional tensions were highlighted when a US warship intercepted drones in the Red Sea, believed to have been launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, targeting vessels associated with Israel.

Commentators have noted that Israel is entering a critical phase of the Gaza war. The Economist pointed out that immediately following the ceasefire’s collapse, Israeli forces mobilized towards Hamas’s strongholds in the Gaza Strip. The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh remarked that Israel is focusing on precise strikes in Khan Younis, urging residents to evacuate targeted areas. This strategy, however, leaves civilians in a perilous situation, having to guess safe locations amidst the chaos.

The ground operation in southern Gaza is fraught with risks for Israeli troops, who face challenges such as snipers, suicide bombers, and improvised explosives in densely populated areas. This urban warfare scenario puts civilians in grave danger.

Another critical aspect of this conflict is Hamas’s extensive tunnel network, which Israel is determined to destroy. The Financial Times reporters John Paul Rathbone and Neri Zilber described the network as a crucial infrastructure for Hamas, used for storing weapons, sheltering fighters, and orchestrating ambushes against Israeli troops. Despite eight weeks of fighting, this network remains largely intact. Israel is reportedly considering flooding these tunnels with Mediterranean water, a strategy fraught with risks to hostages and potential long-term environmental damage.

Amidst these developments, Amnesty International has called for a war crimes investigation into Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza. Reports indicate significant damage to civilian infrastructure, including homes, schools, and other public facilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under increasing pressure to negotiate the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza. Despite emotional appeals from the families of those still in captivity, Netanyahu has maintained his stance against ceasing the bombardment of Gaza.

As the situation unfolds, the international community watches closely, hoping for a resolution that can bring lasting peace to a region long tormented by conflict.

As Dr Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence says, “Amidst the escalating conflict in Gaza, it’s crucial to remember the profound human cost of such military offensives. Every bomb dropped and every bullet fired can have devastating consequences, not just immediately, but for generations to come. As Dr. Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence often emphasises, the ripple effects of armed violence extend far beyond the battlefield, affecting the most vulnerable in society. It’s our collective responsibility to recognize this and strive for solutions that prioritise human life and dignity.”