Israeli forces and Hamas fighters engaged in heavy fighting Monday in and around Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, while battles were ongoing outside Gaza City in the north.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters late Sunday that Israeli forces are now focused on fighting in Jabaliya and Shajaiye, two neighborhoods in northern Gaza, as well as in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second largest city.
Hagari said the Israeli military now controls the Palestine Square area in Gaza City, home to municipal offices and the headquarters for Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, but have yet to find him.
Israeli officials have described him as the “mastermind” behind the October 7 Hamas shock attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and allowed the militants to capture 240 hostages, 140 or so of whom they are still holding. They believe Sinwar is hiding in southern Gaza, with Hagari saying that capturing or killing him is one of Israel’s goals in the war.
The Hamas-run health ministry says that nearly 18,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in the Israeli air and ground offensive in the last seven weeks.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aid distribution in Gaza has largely stopped, except in the Rafah area near the Egyptian border, with the intense fighting and restrictions on access to main roads inhibiting humanitarian operations.
The fighting has pushed an estimated 1.9 million people from their homes in Gaza, with many seeking shelter in the south in overcrowded facilities amid warnings of poor sanitary conditions and the threat of an increase in communicable diseases.
The U.N. humanitarian agency said tens of thousands of people have arrived in Rafah during the past week. During that same time, Israel has expanded its war against Hamas militants further south, including its operations in Khan Younis.
A delegation of U.N. Security Council ambassadors traveled Monday to the Egypt-Gaza border to meet with U.N. aid officials and humanitarian organizations involved in aid deliveries.
Meanwhile, France, Germany and Italy called Monday for new European Union sanctions against Hamas.
The foreign ministers of the three countries said in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that the sanctions would show a strong commitment to combating Hamas’ infrastructure and financial support.
The ministers did not detail specific sanctions to pursue, but said they should enable targeting Hamas members, groups affiliated with the militants and Hamas supporters.
The European Union, the United States and other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The United States said Sunday that the Israeli military is failing in its announced intention to protect as many Palestinian civilians as possible.
“It’s imperative that civilians be protected,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. He said Israel had fallen short in protecting Palestinian civilians as it continues its offensive against Hamas militants.
The top U.S. diplomat said, “What we’re not seeing are deconfliction times so [more humanitarian] aid can be brought in” to Gaza and “clarity of demarcation” lines for areas where Israel will not attack so civilians can find safe refuge.
The U.N. General Assembly will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to vote on a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., told The Associated Press that it’s similar to a Security Council resolution the U.S. vetoed Friday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Sunday described the health situation in Gaza as “catastrophic,” adding it will be almost impossible to improve.
The 34-member WHO board passed an emergency motion by consensus to secure more medical access in the enclave.
“I must be frank with you: these tasks are almost impossible in the current circumstances,” Tedros said. Still, he commended countries for finding common ground, saying it was the first time any U.N. motion had been agreed on by consensus since the conflict began.
Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician who heads the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees with 25 teams working in Gaza, said, “Half of Gaza is now starving.”
He said 350,000 people had infections, including 115,000 with severe respiratory ailments. They also are lacking warm clothes, blankets and protection from the rain, he said.
United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer to this report.