As Israel’s tanks push further into Khan Younis, UN officials say situation in Gaza is beyond words

Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis (Reuters)
Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis (Reuters)

Israeli tanks are pressing further into Gaza's second city – pushing increasing numbers of residents further south as they look to escape the war on Hamas.

More Palestinians are fleeing the city of Khan Younis as the military attacks intensify. Most are heading for Rafah, at the southern tip of Gaza, where, just a few miles away, a dozen UN Security Council envoys made a visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border. There, Ecuador's representative on the trip, Jose De La Gasca, called the situation inside Gaza "even worse than what words can speak".

Representatives from the US and France did not take part in the visit, which comes after the US vetoed last week’s UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza – and then sanctioned an emergency sale of more than $100m (£80m) worth of tank ammunition to Israel.

Diplomats are pushing to find a way for more aid to enter Gaza, as the situation on the ground becomes increasingly “catastrophic”, in the words of World Health Organisation Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"I expect public order to completely break down soon and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt," the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had said at the weekend. On Monday, the Israeli government denied displacement was the aim. Spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation "outrageous and false".

Mr Levy said his country was defending itself from the "monsters" of Hamas who had attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 240 hostage. About 100 have since been freed. Israel launched an aerial assault in the wake of the Hamas attack, backed by a blockade that has left food, water, fuel and medical supplies running low. Ground operations are also taking place in both north and southern Gaza.

On Monday, there were reports of heavy clashes between Hamas and Israeli forces in northern Gaza, where Israel had said its mission was largely complete. Israel claimed dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered and urged others to join them. The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired rockets towards Tel Aviv, where Israelis fled to shelters.

Hamas issued fresh demands for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to be released and threatened the lives of the hostages it still holds if they were not. Currently, there appears little hope of another truce that ensured the release of hostages across seven days last month, a ceasefire that gave some respite to Gaza's residents

UN officials say 1.9 million people - 85 percent of Gaza's population - are displaced by the war and describe the conditions in the southern areas as hellish.

During the trip Rafah, China's representative to the UN Zhang Jun – when asked by reporters if he had a message to nations which opposed a ceasefire in Gaza – said simply: "Enough is enough."

United Arab Emirates UN ambassador, Lana Nusseibeh, said the aim of the visit was "to learn first-hand what is needed in terms of a humanitarian operations scale-up that meet the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza." She noted it was not an official Security Council visit.

Arranged by The UAE, the trip comes as the security council negotiates a new resolution that demands the warring parties "allow the use of all land, sea and air routes to and throughout" Gaza for aid. The resolution would also create a UN administered aid-monitoring system inside Gaza.

On Tuesday, the 193-member UN General Assembly is likely to vote on a similar draft resolution to the one vetoed by the US in the security council demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict

The group of UN Security Council envoys first stopped in the Egyptian town of Arish where they were given a briefing by the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) on the fast-deteriorating situation inside the Gaza Strip. They also held a minute's silence for the more than 100 UN staff who have died in the conflict so far.

The group then traveled to the Rafah crossing, reportedly passing dozens of aid trucks waiting to deliver aid into Gaza.

"We need to see... we will witness what is happening and what can we do in order to address the situation," the Ecuadorian. representative, Mr De La Gasca said.