Dec 5, 2023 - World

Israeli forces move into Khan Younis, Gaza's second largest city

Smoke rises above buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 5. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images.

The Israeli military expanded its ground operation on Monday night local time in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, the Israeli Defense Force said in a statement on Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is a significant development in the war after most of the ground operations in the last 60 days took place in Gaza City and the northern parts of the enclave.

  • The IDF believes Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif are hiding in Khan Younis, and one of the main goals of the operation in the city is to capture or kill them, officials say.

Driving the news: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said in a statement on Tuesday that Israeli military forces are encircling the Khan Yunis area in the southern Gaza Strip.

  • "Those who thought that the IDF would not know how to resume the fighting after the pause were mistaken, and Hamas is already feeling this," Halevi said. "We have moved to the third phase of the ground operations…and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south."
  • Israeli ground forces are also operating in the Jabalia and Shajaiya areas in the northern strip, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finklestein of IDF Southern Command said in a statement on Tuesday.

The big picture: The U.S. is concerned the operation in Khan Younis will significantly deepen the humanitarian crisis in the enclave and lead to high numbers of civilian casualties. About 2 million Palestinians are now located in southern Gaza after being displaced by fighting in the north.

  • White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday that Israel "heard us loud and clear about our expectation that they try to minimize civilian casualties."

State of play: The Biden administration has been pressing Israel to increase the amount of humanitarian aid and fuel it allows into Gaza as it expands the military operation to Khan Younis.

  • The Israeli war cabinet discussed the issue on Monday night local time, but the meeting ended with no decision other than holding another discussion with the wider security cabinet.

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