The road into Gaza is a boggy quagmire. We drove for over an hour, in heavily armoured Israeli military vehicles, through deserted and destroyed neighbourhoods in the south of the strip.
There are no windows to see out of, but from the video feed on the small screens inside the cab I didn’t spot a single sign of civilian life and not a building untouched by months of war.
Khan Younis has witnessed the heaviest fighting in recent weeks – we were the first journalists to get access into the centre of the city since the war began.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) says it has control, but during our time there, gunfire was pretty constant and drones flew low overhead. The battle didn’t seem to be over.
We had been brought by the IDF to see a tunnel network running under the city.
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Deep under Khan Younis, 25 metres down, the narrow tunnels are oppressively hot and narrow, but at times open up into more spacious living quarters with bathrooms, kitchens and sleep areas.
And then something more sinister – a cell with metal bars and door which the IDF says was used to hold hostages.
They claim to have DNA proof three of the released hostages were in here.
“If anybody in the world needs evidence for the horrific actions that the terror entity Hamas has done, you’re in it,” says General Dan Goldfuss, commanding officer of the 98th Paratrooper Division that captured the city.
Above ground, fierce gun battles were going on nearby.
Drones flew low overhead and there was the occasional boom of explosions.
In the dense heart of the city, it was hard to orientate and know how close the fighting was, but the soldiers with us took up positions, their guns pointed down the streets around us.
After four months of fighting, the Israeli military has not yet found many of the tunnels and they have not yet eliminated Hamas.
‘War is not a pretty sight – my people were killed’
“The Palestinian people here have paid, and are paying, an almighty price for this,” I put it to General Goldfuss.
“They are,” he agreed. “But so am I. I think they should turn their rage towards Hamas.”
But they have nothing to come back to and will turn their rage towards you, I suggested.
“Maybe, maybe they will. But at the end of the day, it’s war up top and it’s war down here,” he replies. “War is not a pretty sight. My people were killed on 7 October 2023, they were slaughtered and burnt. What would Britain do if a terror entity entered Britain?”
Israel promised this would be a war like nothing before. Its forces and politicians vowed to defeat Hamas and bring the hostages home.
The country’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, has said a ground operation will soon begin in Rafah in the far south – the one remaining urban centre that IDF troops have not yet entered.
It is also where more than a million people have fled to, and one of the last remaining ‘safe zones’, although it comes under regular attack from airstrikes.
Warnings of ‘catastrophe’ if IDF pushes south
Egypt, worried that there will be an exodus of refugees over the border, has expressed grave concerns about the IDF entering Rafah.
Humanitarian organisations have warned of a catastrophe.
More than 27,000 Palestinians have already been killed since the start of the conflict, at least 16,000 of them estimated to be civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.
Still, Israel continues to fight. More than 1,200 people were killed by Hamas in the attacks on 7 October. Hundreds more were taken hostage.
But with Hamas still fighting too, Israel cannot yet claim victory, and time might be running out.
The framework of a new hostage deal has been agreed upon by Israel and is awaiting Hamas’s approval.
If it goes ahead, there could be an extended pause in fighting which Western and Arab nations will want to turn into a permanent ceasefire.
Whenever the end does come, it’s hard to imagine what will be left of Gaza, because I saw what vengeance looks like – almost total destruction.
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