A building housing hundreds of displaced people was hit by Israeli tank fire in the town of Khan Younis on Wednesday, the United Nations said, as Israeli forces stepped up attacks on the southern Gaza Strip, forcing streams of Palestinians to flee the neighborhood.
Smoke wreaths hung over the UN shelter after a huge fire broke out at the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Center, video obtained by CNN showed.
“Buildings burn and there are mass casualties. Safe access to and from the center was denied for two days. People are trapped,” Thomas White, the director of UNRWA affairs, said on X.
At least nine people were killed and another 75 injured, White said, adding that a team from his agency and the World Health Organization were trying to reach the site. He said the building houses 800 people. UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had “currently” ruled out that the incident was “the result of an IDF air or artillery attack.”
It said a “thorough review of military operations in the area was underway,” adding that “the possibility that the attack was a result of Hamas fire is being examined.”
Last week, the IDF intensified its offensive against Khan Younis, where medical facilities housing displaced civilians and health workers were heavily damaged. The IDF claims that Hamas fighters are in hospitals in the area. Aid groups say the siege has blocked vital humanitarian operations.
The Israeli military launched its campaign in Gaza with the stated goal of eliminating Hamas after more than 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 kidnapped in the militant group's Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, according to Israeli authorities.
Since then, the bombardment and siege of the enclave has decimated swathes of territory, reducing food, fuel and water supplies and exposing more than 2.2 million civilians to starvation, dehydration and disease.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that Palestinians in Gaza “face inhumane, deplorable conditions and struggle to simply survive another day without adequate shelter, heating, sanitation, food and drinking water.”
Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave have killed at least 25,700 people and injured another 63,740, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry. CNN cannot independently verify the figures due to the difficulties of reporting from the war zone.
Palestinians gather outside a mortuary in nearby Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 24 around the bodies of those killed in Israel's ground offensive and bombardment of Khan Younis.
Palestinian health officials and medics have also reported Israeli tanks and attack drones firing on people trying to escape from the area around the Amal and Nasser hospitals in Khan Younis.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Israeli forces had surrounded the Nasser Medical Complex and disrupted essential medical, food and fuel supplies.
“Hundreds of patients with infections and pregnant women are facing serious complications,” said Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli forces had “surrounded” its headquarters and Al-Amal Hospital and enforced “restrictions on movement around the building and the hospital.”
Six people were killed in attacks on Khan Younis on Wednesday, PRCS added, three of whom were “attacked” at the entrance to its headquarters.
Israeli tanks also surrounded the Al-Aqsa University compound in the city, where thousands had sought refuge, the Palestinian state news agency WAFA said. It said civilians had been attacked elsewhere in the southern Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours.
An Israeli attack on a “rest area” in the coastal town of Al-Mawasi killed four civilians, including a child, and a man fleeing fighting in Khan Younis was hit in his car, WAFA reported.
Israeli forces carried out “numerous intense air strikes, referred to as 'belts of fire,' to accompany their ground assault, which extended as far west as Khan Younis,” said a Geneva-based NGO that advocates for human rights in the region , Euro- This was announced by the Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor on Wednesday
Euro-Med HR reported that shelters housing “tens of thousands” of displaced people in the western part of Khan Younis and Al-Mawasi are under siege by the Israeli military.
03:04 – Source: CNN
Young girl was hand-buried in the sand when the Israeli offensive hit Khan Younis
The IDF said it continued to operate in Khan Younis, where it was pursuing “military targets, outposts, infrastructure and command and control centers,” and said the operation there would last “several days.”
“The brigade combat team is stationed nearby [Khan Younis] camps in the western part and have begun to operate in them. The exercise continues against military targets in the area, outposts, infrastructure and command and control centers,” the IDF said.
“There is an area of emergency shelters, there are several hospitals, several sensitive locations. We have seen terrorists using these websites. Almost a week ago we saw a rocket launch from Nasser Hospital. Terrorists are stationed in these hospitals.
“This operation will last for several days until we achieve the greatest possible success: the dismantling of Hamas's military framework and Hamas strongholds, which we must thoroughly dismantle,” the IDF added.
CNN cannot independently verify the operational details reported by the IDF. CNN has asked the IDF for comment on whether its forces have surrounded Nasser and Amal hospitals.
As the IDF surrounded the town of Khan Younis, thousands of Palestinians moved south toward Rafah, near the border with Egypt, where 1.3 million people have been displaced, according to the UN.
A CNN video shot on Monday shows displaced people sitting on the side of the road and near the coast as they move west and south. The IDF ordered civilians to leave several districts in and around the city and head toward the coast, which it told CNN was “safer.”
The video shows cars, trucks and tractors transporting families and their essential belongings such as blankets, mattresses and food. However, many went on foot.
Hisham Sayegh said he witnessed four people being killed, forcing him to leave with his family as shelling increased in the area.
“There are dead people lying on the ground. We left them behind. People are being killed in the houses,” said Sayegh. “We expected to die at any moment.”
Jamal al Rozzi, a displaced aid worker near Khan Younis, said he was forced to flee to Rafah on Wednesday after heavy bombardment in the area.
“We had three terrible nights,” Al Rozzi, executive director of the National Society for Rehabilitation, told CNN in a voice message.
“We had to evacuate again … because the area we were in was bombed,” he said. “It was a heavy bombardment and we were hardly safe there.”