Israeli ground forces move into southern Gaza



Dozens of Israeli tanks rolled into southern Gaza on Monday, witnesses said, despite global concern over mounting civilian deaths and fears the war on Hamas will spread elsewhere in the Middle East.

Weeks after Israel sent ground forces into northern Gaza, the army has been air-dropping leaflets in parts of the besieged territory’s south, telling Palestinians to flee to other areas.

Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen Monday near the city of Khan Yunis, which is crowded with internally displaced Palestinians, witnesses told AFP.

Amin Abu Hawli, 59, said the Israeli vehicles were two kilometres (1.2 miles) inside Gaza in the village of al-Qarara, while Moaz Mohammed, 34, said Israeli tanks were moving down the strip’s main north-south highway, the Salah al-Din road.

The military was trying to cut the road between Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and Khan Yunis, “firing bullets and tank shells at cars and people trying to move through the area,” Mohammed said.

Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said Sunday that the army “continues to expand its ground operation against main Hamas fronts in the Gaza Strip”.

“Wherever there is a Hamas stronghold, the IDF operates,” he added.

Full-scale fighting resumed Friday after the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, during which Israel and Hamas had exchanged scores of hostages and prisoners.

Air strikes have since intensified in Gaza’s south, said James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

“Despite what has been assured, attacks in the south of Gaza are every bit as vicious as what the north endured,” he posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter.

“Somehow, it’s getting worse for children and mothers.”

– Trapped under rubble –

Sheltering at the Al-Aqsa hospital, Walaa Abu Libda said her four-year-old daughter was trapped under rubble.

“I don’t know if she dead or alive,” she said, one of an estimated 1.8 million people displaced in Gaza — roughly three-quarters of the population.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in retaliation for the Islamist militant group’s October 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw 240 hostages taken, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s military said Sunday it had carried out around 10,000 air strikes in total, while Gaza militants had resumed rocket salvos into Israel, most of which had been intercepted.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 15,500 people have been killed in Gaza, about 70 percent of them women and children — a death toll that has sparked global alarm and mass demonstrations.

The Israeli army said Monday three more soldiers had been killed in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of troop deaths there to 75.

The fatalities brought to 401 the number of Israeli defence personnel killed since October 7, among them those killed in the Hamas attacks themselves and including soldiers, reservists, kibbutz guards and others.

Under the temporary truce that expired Friday, 80 Israeli hostages were freed, in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. More than two dozen Thai and other captives were also released from Gaza.

With at least 137 hostages still held in Gaza, according to the Israeli military, Hamas has ruled out more releases until a permanent ceasefire is agreed.