GAZA/BEIJING - Hamas battled Israeli forces in Gaza’s main southern city on Wednesday in some of the most intense combat of the two-month-old war sparked by the October 7 attacks.
The focus of the conflict has shifted into the besieged territory’s south following fierce fighting and bombardment that reduced much of the north to rubble and forced 1.9 million people to flee.
Israeli troops, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers have rolled into Khan Yunis in the south, Gaza’s second biggest city, forcing already displaced civilians to pack up and flee again, witnesses told AFP. “Our forces are now encircling the Khan Yunis area in the southern Gaza Strip,” Israel’s army chief Herzi Halevi said Tuesday.
“We have secured many Hamas strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip, and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south.”
The fighting was “the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation” in late October, said the army’s Southern Command chief Major General Yaron Finkelman. The streets of Khan Yunis were almost empty on Wednesday morning as residents tried to take shelter from shelling and artillery fire, said AFP journalists, while the dead and wounded continued to pour into the city’s hospitals.
The top diplomats from China and the United States discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict in a call on Wednesday, Beijing and Washington said, agreeing on the need to de-escalate the war.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken “reiterated the imperative of all parties working to prevent the conflict from spreading”, according to the US State Department.
Beijing said Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed in turn that, regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas, “the top priority is to cease fire and end the war as soon as possible”. “Major countries must adhere to fairness and justice, uphold objectivity and impartiality, demonstrate calm and rationality, and make every effort to cool down the situation and prevent larger-scale humanitarian disasters,” Wang said, according to the foreign ministry.