Khan Younis all but destroyed by IDF as residents return


An estimated 55 per cent of the buildings in the Khan Younis area – about 45,000 buildings – have been destroyed or damaged, according to Corey Scher of City University of New York and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University, two mapping experts who have been using satellite imagery to track destruction.

“Where do I sleep? Where do I go?” Heba Sahloul’s aged mother sobbed in despair, sitting amid the rubble of the family’s living room. Her daughters searched for anything they could take with them. The room’s walls were blown away and the floor was piled with chunks of concrete, slabs of the ceiling and broken countertops. Only the columns painted pink gave any sign it had once been their home.

Residents have started to filter back to Khan Younis after Israeli troops pulled out.

Residents have started to filter back to Khan Younis after Israeli troops pulled out.Credit: AP

Sahloul said Israeli troops ordered them to leave during the fighting. “We left all our things here, and we went out with only our clothes,” she said. Her father was killed earlier in the assault, leaving Sahloul, her sisters and her mother. “We are only six women at home and we do not know where to go,” Sahloul said.

One woman clambered over collapsed concrete slabs atop a mountain of her home’s wreckage. Her son crawled on all fours into a hollow under the rubble and twisted rebar, clearing away concrete blocks.

“There are no words to describe the pain inside me,” the woman said, her voice breaking. “Our memories, our dreams, our childhood here, our family … It’s all gone.” The woman, who identified herself only by her first name, Hanan, put a few items they found into a backpack, including a plastic red flower.

Khan Younis’ main Nasser Hospital was trashed inside, with debris strewn around the wards and ceiling panels collapsed. The exterior appeared largely intact, but the extent of the damage was not immediately clear. Israeli troops stormed the facility during the offensive, saying they believed the remains of hostages were inside, though they did not report finding any.

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Israel said Khan Younis was a major Hamas stronghold and that its operations there killed thousands of militants and inflicted heavy damage to a vast network of tunnels used by Hamas to move weapons and fighters. It also claimed to have found evidence that hostages were held in the city.

With the troops’ withdrawal, Hamas could seek to regroup there as it has in northern Gaza, where the military scaled back forces earlier.

Israel plans to invade Rafah, which it says is Hamas’ last major stronghold, have raised global alarm about the fate of the 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there. Israel’s top ally, the US, has said invading Rafah would be a mistake and has demanded a credible plan to protect civilians.

Israel is purchasing 40,000 tents to prepare for the evacuation of Rafah, an Israel official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. It was not clear where they would be set up and how many people they could house. Allowing people to return to Khan Younis could relieve some pressure on Rafah, but many have no homes to return to.

Khan Younis has been all but destroyed by the Israeli offensive.

Khan Younis has been all but destroyed by the Israeli offensive.Credit: AP

In northern Gaza, the Israeli military has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids in areas where it says Hamas regrouped. Last month, troops stormed Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, in a raid that triggered two weeks of fighting in and around the facility. Israel says it killed some 200 Hamas fighters in the raid, but hospital officials say many civilians were among the dead.

Israel says its war aims to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and return the roughly 130 remaining hostages, a quarter of whom Israel says are dead.

Negotiations mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the US over a ceasefire and exchange of captives continue. Israel and Hamas appear to remain far apart.

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Hamas said the latest response it has received from Israel does not include a permanent ceasefire or the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. It has repeatedly said both terms are unnegotiable, while Israel has firmly rejected them.

AP

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