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After the window that allowed the release of 113 Israelis and foreigners kidnapped by Hamas and Islamic Jihad on October 7 and more humanitarian aid and calm in the Gaza Strip was abruptly closed, another one has opened this weekend that has as a framework the attacks and a possible ground incursion in the southern Khan Younis.
If there is an agreement for the pending batch of hostages to be released, the war window could close briefly. For the time being, it opens wide and to the south.
If in the first weeks of the war, the IDF focused on attacking and taking control of large areas in northern Gaza, now the target first of the fighter jets and then of the soldiers is the southern capital of the Palestinian enclave.
1.7 million displaced
This is a very sensitive area, not only because Khan Younis was already the second most populous (400,000 people) after Gaza City. Today, it is home to more than 1.7 million of the 2.3 million inhabitants displaced due to the mass evacuation from the north.
According to the communications director of UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestine refugees), Juliette Toma, about 958,00 sought refuge in 99 UN headquarters in southern Gaza. "People have lost everything and need everything," he warns.
Another aspect that complicates the Israeli operation is that it would be the place where many hostages were transferred and hidden, either in houses or in tunnels.
Israel considers it a major stronghold of Hamas' armed wing, including leaders and militants who fled the fighting in the north. Not surprisingly, Yan Yunis was the birthplace of the two most wanted Palestinians by the Israeli security services on the face of the earth after having planned and executed the largest attack in the history of the Jewish state (more than 1,200 dead and 240 kidnapped): the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahia Sinwar, and the head of the armed wing, Mohamed Deif.
The speed with which Israel intends to carry out the ground incursion in the south, unlike what happened in the north, is due both to the fear that the members of the Ezedin Al Qassam Brigades will flee through tunnels into Egypt and to the increased pressure from the US, which is very concerned about the number of civilian casualties and displaced persons.
As a result, Israel is employing a new tactic in which it calls for a perimeter-limited evacuation. Thus, the army has sent its messages to residents of six neighborhoods of Khan Younis. According to Palestinian sources, Israeli tanks were already seen this weekend in the area of Deir Al Balah, north of Khan Younis. The militias said there was fighting and claimed responsibility for firing rockets into Israel.
According to Gaza's Hamas-controlled health ministry, more than 15,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli bombardments and fighting since October 7.
After announcing the death of the head of Hamas' Shejaiya Battalion, Wissam Farhat, and other militants, Israeli military spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee, threatened 11 commanders by attaching their photos and names: "This is one last warning, you are all in the crosshairs. The Defense Forces will operate forcefully to destroy Hamas' infrastructure. You have two options: surrender and lay down your arms or a fate similar to that of the commanders who were eliminated."
Israel has also suffered casualties among its top commanders. Specifically, four colonels. As commander of the Gaza Division's Southern Brigade, Asaf Hamami arrived early on 'Black Saturday' at Kibbutz Nirim in the face of the jihadist attack by the Nukba Unit. Hamami killed militants and saved many villagers, but was shot along with two soldiers. His body was taken to Gaza. The attackers carried his picture to catch him dead or alive.
Little hope for a ceasefire
Expectations for a ceasefire exist but are minimal. Israel is demanding the release of 15 women and two children in captivity as stipulated in the agreement for one more day of truce. Hamas retorts that it does not have them and accuses Israel of wanting to resume "aggression" by all means to end its armed and control capabilities.
The militant group would like a broader agreement that includes other categories of hostages — starting with the elderly in exchange for veteran Palestinian prisoners — that would allow for more ceasefire days.
Where the fire has increased has been in the north. Israel struck Hezbollah targets in response to the Lebanese group's renewed missiles following the collapse of the truce in Gaza.
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