Israel’s army has begun flooding Hamas’s network of tunnels as intense fighting rages in Gaza, with the UN warning of the potential “collapse of the humanitarian system” in the territory.
The focus of the fighting in recent weeks has been Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, where vast areas have been reduced to a muddy wasteland of bombed-out buildings.
Elsewhere in the city, Israeli troops gave journalists a tour of a tunnel they said had been used as a Hamas command centre.
“Every war has its own characteristics, and I think that this war, its basic character is about that over- and underground manoeuvre,” Dan Goldfus, commander of the 98th Paratroopers Division, told reporters outside of the shaft.
“I think the enemy is on the run and is trying to put itself under the civilians as much as it can,” he added.
The Israeli military, which has dubbed the vast network of tunnels “the Gaza metro”, said that it had begun flooding the underground complexes with water in a bid to “neutralise the threat of Hamas’ subterranean network”.
The war began after Hamas’s 7 October attacks on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed.
About 250 foreign and Israeli hostages were also taken to Gaza, of whom around 132 are still there. That figure includes the bodies of at least 28 people believed to have been killed.
Following the Hamas attack, Israel launched an air, land and sea offensive in Gaza that has killed at least 26,751 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The war has displaced the vast majority of Gaza’s population, according to the UN, which warned the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory would only get worse if major donors did not restore funding to UNRWA, its main aid agency for Palestinians.
After a recent meeting in Paris between US, Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials yielded a proposed framework for a truce, Hamas confirmed yesterday it had received the proposal and was “in the process of examining it and delivering its response”.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, whose government helped broker a previous truce in November, voiced hope an initial deal might lead to a permanent ceasefire.
Sheikh Mohammed said the current plan included a phased truce that would see women and children hostages released first, with more aid also entering Gaza.
The United States also expressed hope for a deal, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that “very important, productive work has been done”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office earlier called the talks “constructive”, ruled out releasing “thousands” of Palestinian prisoners as part of any deal.
“I would like to make it clear… We will not withdraw the IDF (army) from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen,” he said.
Fears have grown that the Middle East could face a wider conflict, after months of violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, who have also targeted US forces.
US President Joe Biden said yesterday, without offering details, that he had decided on a response to a recent drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan, but added: “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
The United States and Britain have also launched a campaign of air strikes against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have carried out repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
Last night, the US military shot down another Houthi anti-ship missile over the vital trade route, according to US Central Command.
“There were no injuries or damage reported,” it said in a statement.