With Israel pressing its offensive in Gaza, its forces were engaged in intense battles on Monday in three areas of the strip where Israeli officials believe Hamas militants still have strongholds.
Khan Younis is the largest city in southern Gaza. Its prewar population of about 200,000 people swelled in the first month of the war, after Israel ordered civilians to leave the northern part of the strip ahead of its ground invasion. Many Hamas fighters are also believed to have moved south, and Khan Younis — its housing blocks, hospitals and shelters overflowing with civilians — was not spared in the early fighting. Israel repeatedly targeted the city with airstrikes.
The Israeli military now describes Khan Younis as “Hamas’s military capital” and, in recent weeks, instructed civilians there to flee toward the border as its forces pushed south. The city is home to Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a video posted last week on social media: “Our forces are encircling Sinwar’s house. He can escape, but it is only a matter of time until we reach him.”
Jabaliya started out as a refugee camp decades ago and has become a densely built neighborhood of apartment blocks in northern Gaza that is home to roughly 100,000 people. Many of them are Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from their homes during the war sparked by Israel’s creation in 1948.
Jabaliya has long been considered a Hamas stronghold. It also has a storied place in Palestinian history: It was where the first uprising against Israel, known in Arabic as the Intifada, began on Dec. 9. 1987.
In the decades since, it has been the scene of fighting in nearly every spasm of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, and it has been subjected to repeated airstrikes since the outset of the current war on Oct. 7.
On Oct. 31, Israel used at least two 2,000-pound bombs during an airstrike on Jabaliya, according to experts and an analysis conducted by The New York Times of satellite images, photos and videos. Hospital officials said that dozens of civilians were killed and hundreds wounded in the strike. Israel said it was targeting a Hamas commander and fighters, as well as the network of underground tunnels used by Hamas to hide weapons and fighters.
Another neighborhood in northern Gaza, Shajaiye is also a densely packed area that has been similarly struck by Israeli airstrikes since the war began.
Israel has long said the neighborhood functions as a base for Hamas, and it was the scene of a bloody Israeli assault in an earlier conflict in Gaza in 2014. The fighting in July that year resulted in what was one of the deadliest single days for the Palestinians and for the Israeli military in that war. At least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and officers were killed in Shejaiya in an attack that the then-secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called “an atrocious action.”
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