Latest developments in Israel-Hamas war

A Palestinian girl stands inside a heavily damaged house following a raid by Israeli troops early in the morning, in the Jenin camp in the occupied West Bank, on December 6, 2023. The Israel-occupied West Bank has seen a surge in violence, with more than 250 Palestinians killed there since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, according to Palestinian authorities. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Hamas gunmen from Gaza launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

The Israeli army was fighting Hamas militants in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday in what it described as some of the most intense combat of the two-month war.

Hamas gunmen from Gaza launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and has carried out air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed more than 16,200 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas government.

During a seven-day truce that expired on Friday, Hamas released 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Twenty-five other captives, mostly Thais, were freed outside the scope of the deal.

Israeli authorities said 138 hostages were still being held in Gaza.

On day 61 of the war, here are five key developments from the past 24 hours:

Israel encircling Khan Yunis

Israeli forces were encircling southern Gaza's main city, battling Hamas militants through streets and buildings.

"Our forces are now encircling the Khan Yunis area in the southern Gaza Strip," Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi said late Tuesday.

"We have secured many Hamas strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip, and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south."

Sources in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group, told AFP their fighters were battling Israeli troops early on Wednesday in a bid to prevent them from breaking into Khan Yunis and surrounding areas.

Safe zones 'not possible'

The United Nations said it was impossible to create safe zones for civilians in Gaza.

"The so-called safe zones... are not scientific, they are not rational, they are not possible," said James Elder, spokesman for the UN children's agency, UNICEF.

His comments came after Israel's army published a map it said was intended to enable Gazans to "evacuate from specific places for their safety if required".

That followed international demands to create safe areas where civilians could shelter from devastating bombardments.

An estimated 1.9 million people are displaced in Gaza -- roughly 80 percent of the population, according to UN figures.

Biden condemns Hamas 'sexual violence'

US President Joe Biden called for the condemnation of "sexual violence" committed by Hamas, after allegations of rape during the October 7 attacks on Israel, which the Palestinian militants deny.

"It's on all of us... to forcibly condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation," Biden said at a campaign event in Boston. 

US ups Gaza aid, rebukes extremist settlers

US aid chief Samantha Power announced $21 million in new assistance to Gaza during a visit to Egypt, including hygiene, shelter and food supplies, in addition to the $100 million Biden announced on October 18.

Separately, the United States announced on Tuesday that it would refuse visas for extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.

"We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Such violence has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, with more than 250 Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers, according to Palestinian authorities.

Lebanese soldier killed

A Lebanese soldier was killed by Israeli fire on a border post, Lebanon's army said -- the first death in the country's armed forces since hostilities began on the frontier in October.

The Lebanon-Israel border has seen intensifying exchanges of fire since war broke out between Hamas and Israel, mainly involving the Iran-backed Hezbollah, raising fears of a broader conflagration.

More than 110 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, mostly Hezbollah fighters as well as more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israel says six of its soldiers have been killed.