(Bloomberg) -- Israel is pushing military operations further into the southern Gaza Strip, with reports of strikes Monday night hitting the territory’s second-largest city as the war against Hamas ramps up again following a week-long truce.
The stepped-up fighting comes after increased warnings from the US that Israel must curtail civilian deaths in Gaza and that the destruction seen in the north shouldn’t be repeated in the drive south to root out the group.
A spokesman for Israel Defense Forces said Monday evening that the ground offensive had expanded throughout the Gaza Strip, including hand-to-hand combat in some areas of the north.
The offensive is going “house to house, tunnel to tunnel,” the spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said in a briefing. He made no reference to Washington’s admonitions about casualties, but said targets are based on “precise” intelligence.
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Southern Gaza was hit by airstrikes, including about 200 targets overnight, while rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza. The attacks came hours after the Israel Defense Forces urged those who fled south to evacuate once again, deepening concern for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had escaped from the north.
The conflict’s latest round kicked off after the end Friday of a week-long cease-fire to release some hostages, brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US — although 137 still remain in Gaza. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday that “intensive discussions” are ongoing to get all hostages released, and echoed Israel’s position that the cease-fire collapsed after Hamas reneged on a pledge to release civilian women.
Washington sharpened its message to Tel Aviv in recent days over the death toll in Gaza since fighting started in October, with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warning of a potential “strategic defeat.”
US officials on Monday stressed it was too early to assess whether their diplomacy had been effective in guiding the new course of combat. NSC’s Sullivan said Monday “it’s a dynamic situation, and we will keep watching and keep measuring day by day, and stay in persistent contact with the Israelis,” adding that Israel has a right to pursue Hamas while also taking responsibility to protect civilians.
“We’ve seen a much more targeted request for evacuations” into designated “deconfliction” zones during the southward push, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a separate briefing. “We have seen improvement in their plans for Khan Yunis,” he added, but ultimately the US will judge the offensive based on results.
Meanwhile, the flow of information from the territory has been hampered by the loss of internet and mobile services. Paltel, the main Palestinian telecommunications operator, said its services for the entire strip are offline.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, called for greater protection of civilians during a visit to Gaza — where fatalities stand at about 15,900, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
“The level of human suffering is intolerable,” she said in a statement Monday. “It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible.”
The World Health Organization said it was told by the IDF to move medical supplies out of two of its warehouses in southern Gaza as they will be “beyond use” due to ground operations, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on X. “We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities.”
Israel’s government rejected that accusation.
The resumption of fighting has raised fears that the conflict will spread across the Middle East and destabilize the region.
A US Navy ship responded to a flurry of drone and missile attacks against commercial ships operating in the Red Sea, blaming Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen. Meanwhile, Turkey warned Israel’s spy agency not to try to kill members of Hamas on its soil, following reports of plans to assassinate overseas leaders of the group, which the US and European Union have designated a terrorist organization.
--With assistance from Josh Wingrove.
(Adds Israel rejecting accusation from World Health Organization in 14th paragraph.)
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