KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip – The injured were brought to the doors of southern Gaza’s al-Nasser Hospital in private cars, trucks and on carts.
They had thought the school in the city of Khan Younis would provide some safety. But, like so often in Gaza, in the midst of a war, it did not.
More than a dozen bodies of those killed in a strike were lined up in white sheets in the yard outside the hospital morgue Tuesday morning. Relatives shouted and wept.
Israeli forces pushed into the biggest city in southern Gaza on Tuesday as Israel expanded its war on multiple fronts, bringing fresh terror to civilians who say they have nowhere to run for safety.
Although Israel is still fighting in the northern half of the densely populated Gaza Strip, in the past two days, its forces have moved toward the southern city of Khan Younis, which is filled with those who fled the earlier fighting.
More than 80% of Gaza’s population of more than 2 million has been displaced, according to the United Nations, with many people gathering in schools and hospitals in the hope that they will be safe.
“The situation is truly catastrophic,” said Hamad Abu Sarhan, 51, who was sheltering in the school in the Maan neighborhood of Khan Younis when it was bombed overnight. His 28-year-old nephew is among the dead. His family had been sheltering there for only two days after the Israeli military ordered civilians to evacuate other areas of the south that had been declared military zones.
Khan Younis, the home city of the Hamas military chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar – who is at the top of Israel’s target list – had a population of around 400,000 before the war, but the count has ballooned amid the fighting, and the city now is in the crosshairs of the Israeli military.
With fighting still raging in the north, people can only keep heading farther south into the overcrowded south. The United Nations says it is running out of tents to give to the displaced.
Israel said Tuesday that it was intensifying its military efforts to destroy Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 assault inside southern Israel that killed more than 1,200 people. In addition to moving south into Khan Younis, Israeli forces also entered the dense Gaza City neighborhoods of Jabalya and Shejaiya in the north, where Hamas is thought to be deeply dug in.
Israel has issued repeated assurances that it is abiding by international law and seeking to minimize civilian casualties, but aid agencies say the situation for civilians is rapidly deteriorating.
”The situation is getting worse by the hour,” Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative in Gaza, told reporters via video link Tuesday. “There’s intensified bombing going on all around, including here in the southern areas, Khan Younis and even in Rafah” on the Gaza-Egypt border.
Abu Sarhan said the bombing overnight had been intense. “It was the hardest night of my life,” he said. “We were surrounded by belts of fire from everywhere. The attacks by planes and tanks did not stop throughout the hours of the night.”
The school was struck in the early hours Tuesday, injuring Sarhan’s brother and his 15-year-old niece and 7-year-old-nephew. Ambulances could not reach the area, he said, and the injured had to be taken out in private vehicles. Later, buses arrived to transport the survivors out of the area.
“When we left the place, there were corpses everywhere and in the streets,” he said. “There were screams from people trapped in their homes.”
The Israel Defense Forces has said it is moving toward a new phase, urban fighting. “We’re moving ahead with the second stage now,” Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said, “a second stage that is going to be difficult militarily.”
”We are talking about close-quarter fighting that engages terrorists emerging from tunnels and buildings,” he added.
”Sixty days after the war began, our forces are now encircling the Khan Younis area in the southern Gaza Strip,” said IDF Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi. “Simultaneously, we continue to secure our accomplishments in the northern Gaza Strip.”
”Those who thought that the IDF would not know how to renew the fighting after the pause were mistaken, and Hamas is already feeling this,” he said, referring to a week-long break in fighting when Hamas released more than 100 of the hostages it was holding in Gaza and humanitarian aid was allowed into the territory.
After a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar, that country’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, called on the U.N. Security Council to force Israel to return to the negotiating table over the war in Gaza. He said it was “shameful” that the international community was not doing more to stop the war.
With the resumption of combat Friday, the collapse of Gaza’s health-care facilities has continued apace. In Beit Lahia, on the northern edge of Gaza, those who had been sheltering at Kamal Adwan Hospital said they were surrounded by Israeli tanks and unable to leave. “Anyone who tries to go out gets shot,” said Anas Sharief, a journalist with Al Jazeera, in a video message. “We ask God for safety.”
Mohamed Qandeel, the head of the emergency department at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, said he and three other doctors had treated 80 severely injured patients, with much of the staff unable to reach the hospital because of heavy fighting. Twenty of the injured needed surgery and 10 needed intensive care, he said. “These days we cannot forget; they are catastrophic days,” Qandeel said.
On Lebanon-Israel border, exchanges of fire were reported. A Lebanese soldier was killed Tuesday and three others were injured by Israeli shelling near the border, the Lebanese army said in a statement posted on X.