The IDF began the third phase of the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, with forces now operating in several key areas including Jabaliya, Shijaiyah and Khan Younis.
Thousands of IDF infantry and engineering troops, accompanied by armored forces, are participating in battles against Hamas terrorists, in what Southern Command defines as "the most significant and intense combat period since the beginning of the war."
The IDF believes the fighting in Khan Younis – as well as in Jabaliya and Shijaiyah – meant to eliminate all Hamas terrorists in these areas will take weeks.
The challenge in Khan Younis is expected to be twofold: From the west and southwest of the city there are approximately a million Palestinians who have come from the northern Gaza Strip and, additionally, many residents of Khan Younis itself have yet to evacuate.
However, the IDF has managed to encourage a significant portion of the population to move to "safer areas" west of the city and to its south along the coast, according to maps distributed to residents. According to some estimations, there are hidden locations in the city and its surroundings that serve as hideouts for senior Hamas leaders.
In Khan Younis, an entire brigade of Hamas terrorists operates, comprising four formidable battalions of the terror group. Unlike Gaza City, Khan Younis has a larger territorial expanse, featuring predominantly low-rise structures with fewer floors compared to the western part of Gaza City.
Before the war, the city housed nearly a million residents and is located on top of an intricate network of underground tunnels stretching for dozens of kilometers, some leading to Rafah. A substantial portion of Khan Younis is dedicated to agriculture, featuring fields and orchards, and accordingly the IDF brigades are strategically positioned and currently active in the area.
The IDF Southern Command effectively used the cease-fire to extract insights from the initial phase of the war, learning from mistakes primarily attributed to the lack of accurate intelligence regarding Hamas in the early days. Operational efforts were then undertaken on the battlefield to preemptively prevent further rocket attacks.
According to the Southern Command, at least 6,000 confirmed Hamas terrorists have been eliminated in Gaza, out of an estimated 20,000 in the terror organization. High-ranking figures within Hamas, such as generals and commanders, have been nearly eradicated in the northern part of the strip. The remaining terrorists are now operating in small, localized cells.