Israel says 'mission complete' in Khan Younis, with Rafah now in the crosshairs
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that the military has completed the mission of "dismantling Hamas" in Khan Younis, the largest city in Gaza's south, and will turn its attention towards Rafah, a border city where tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled to.
"Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade boasted that it would stand against the IDF (Israeli army), it is dismantled, and I am telling you here, we are completing the mission in Khan Younis and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate everyone there who is a terrorist who is trying to harm us," Gallant told troops of the 98th Division of the Israeli army during a visit to Khan Younis late on Thursday.
A few hours after Gallant's speech, Israel intensified its attacks on Rafah, which lies to the south of Khan Younis and now hosts at least half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, many of whom have fled there from Khan Younis and Gaza City in the north of the enclave.
Rafah remains the largest urban area in Gaza yet to be stormed by Israeli forces, acting as a last refuge for Palestinians seeking even a modicum of safety from Israel’s war.
Many now fear that a military assault, of the type witnessed in Gaza City and Khan Younis, will focus on Rafah and could become a humanitarian breaking point, given the huge number of civilians crammed into such a small urban area.
Beyond Rafah is the Egyptian border, which has been sealed tightly by Cairo - meaning that there is no escape from Gaza, bar with the expensive services of people smugglers.
Gallant's boast about having "dismantled Hamas" in Khan Younis follows similar claims about other areas in Gaza, which were followed by deadly attacks on Israeli troops by Palestinian fighters.
On Monday, it was reported that Hamas managed to regroup in the north of Gaza, ready for fresh attacks on Israeli forces and even managing to rebuild systems of governance.
The ability of Hamas to recover in areas that Israel claims to have cleared has been acknowledged by current and former senior Israeli military officials.
"We are hearing more, unfortunately, of the recovery of [an] insurgency in both central and northern Gaza … We're hearing more and more that Hamas are doing policing in northern Gaza and governing trade, and that is a very bad outcome," Eyal Hulata, the head of Israel’s national security council until January 2023, said in a recent interview.
Hamas is considering a new ceasefire proposal, with the group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, reportedly in Cairo for negotiations.