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‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 185: Israel Withdraws From Khan Younis

Above photo: A view of Salahuddin Street in Khan Younis following the Israeli forces’ withdrawal on April 7, 2024. Omar Ashtawy/APA Images. 

Palestinian Icon Walid Daqqa Dies In Israeli Prison.

Palestinians describe “destruction and smell of death” upon returning to Khan Younis, as Israel withdraws from the city to reportedly prepare for the invasion of Rafah. Palestinian leader and writer Walid Daqqa dies in Israeli prison at age 62.

Casualties

  • 33,175 + killed* and at least 75,886 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 456+ Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.**
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,139.
  • 604 Israeli soldiers have been killed since October 7, and at least 6,800 injured.***

*Gaza’s Ministry of Health confirmed this figure on its Telegram channel. Some rights groups estimate the death toll to be much higher when accounting for those presumed dead.

** The death toll in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not updated regularly. According to the PA’s Ministry of Health on March 17, this is the latest figure.

*** The number of Israeli soldiers who have been killed was released by the Israeli military, and only includes those soldiers whose names “were allowed to be published.” The number of Israeli soldiers wounded is according to Israeli media reports.

Key Developments

  • Israel kills 84 Palestinians, wounds 136 in the past 24 hours across Gaza, raising the death toll since October 7 to 33,175 and the number of wounded to 75,886, according to the Gaza health ministry.
  • Israeli army withdraws from Khan Younis.
  • Israeli war minister says withdrawal from Khan Younis is preparation for Rafah’s invasion.
  • Palestinians return to Khan Younis as Israeli army withdraws, describing “destruction and smell of death”.
  • UN humanitarian affairs coordinator: Israel’s withdrawal from Khan Younis can improve conditions for the Palestinian population.
  • UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs: Israel’s war goals to invade Rafah will precede any humanitarian goals.
  • al-Qassam Brigades say they killed 14 Israeli soldiers in an ambush in northern Khan Younis.
  • Israeli army admits losing four soldiers in Khan Younis.
  • Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says 44% of Palestinians killed in Gaza are children.
  • Palestinian prisoner, leader, intellectual, and writer Walid Daqqa dies in Israeli jail at age 62 after 38 years in prison.
  • Walid Daqqa’s brother says Israeli authorities are delaying handing over his body to the family.
  • Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Commission says the number of Palestinians arrested by Israel since October 7 has exceeded 8,100.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces raid Nablus, Qalqilya, Hebron, and Tulkarm.

Israel Kills 84 Palestinians And Wounds 136 Across The Gaza Strip Over The Weekend

The Gaza-based Palestinian health ministry announced in separate statements on Saturday and Sunday that a total of 84 Palestinians were killed and 136 wounded by Israeli forces’ ongoing strikes on the Gaza Strip over the past 48 hours.

Meanwhile, local media sources reported that Israeli forces bombed the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood and the Shejaiya refugee camp in Gaza City and its surroundings. On Saturday, the Israeli army allowed a medicine truck and a fuel truck to reach the northern Gaza Strip for the first time since the beginning of the war in October.

In the central Gaza Strip, local sources reported that Israeli forces bombed the Mighraqa village north of Deir al-Balah, the Nusseirat refugee camp, the Maghazi refugee camp, and the al-Zahraa neighborhood. According to sources, six dead bodies were recovered in Nusseirat and three more in al-Zahraa.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli forces withdrew from Khan Younis and its surroundings late on Sunday. This follows a five-month-long ground invasion that has left behind the large-scale destruction of the city and its surroundings.

Upon Israel’s withdrawal from Khan Younis, Palestinian medical sources reported recovering 12 dead bodies from across the city, adding to the dozens of Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes in Khan Younis in previous months. Media sources reported Israeli strikes on Khan Younis’ city center as displaced residents returned to their homes in the area, following the Israeli withdrawal.

Also on Saturday, Israeli forces destroyed several homes in the al-Zanneh neighborhood in Khan Younis, following intense fighting with the Palestinian resistance.

In Rafah, Israeli forces bombed an apartment and farmland in the center and west of the city. Israeli forces also destroyed two houses in the Jeneineh neighborhood in the city.

“Destruction And Smell Of Death” In Khan Younis, As Israeli Army Withdraws From The City

The Israeli army announced on Sunday the complete withdrawal of its forces from Khan Younis, south of the Gaza Strip, after a five-month-long ground invasion of the city.

Local sources reported that Israeli forces left the city and its surroundings late on Sunday. Israel began its ground invasion of Khan Younis in early December.

During the invasion, Israeli forces destroyed a large part of the city’s infrastructure and besieged the Nasser Hospital complex, the largest hospital in the south of Gaza. In February, Israeli forces forcibly evacuated displaced Palestinians from the medical facility after days of targeting them with sniper rifles and bombing the surroundings of the hospital with drone strikes.

Following the withdrawal, Israeli war minister Yoav Gallant said that the Israeli army’s withdrawal from Khan Younis was part of the preparation for the invasion of Rafah.

For his part, the UN coordinator of humanitarian affairs, Jamie McGoldrick, said that the Israeli withdrawal from Khan Younis might help improve conditions for Palestinians in the city and its area. McGoldrick added that the withdrawal might be a preparation for the invasion of Rafah.

The UN official expressed his concern about the UN’s ability to deliver aid to around a million and a half Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip ahead of a potential invasion of Rafah, adding that “Israel’s war goals precede any humanitarian goals.”

Immediately following the withdrawal, Palestinians began to pour into the city, many returning to what was left of their homes. Khan Younis was home to 400,000 Palestinians before October 7, many of whom fled to Rafah as Israeli troops began to invade the city in December.

Maha Thaer, a 38-year-old Palestinian mother of four, told Agence France-Presse on Sunday as she returned to Khan Younis that “destruction is everywhere, and the smell of death too.”

“Nothing is left, residential buildings have been destroyed, streets bulldozed, and all the trees have been uprooted,” said Thaer. “I saw people taking out dead bodies from the rubble, killed in previous bombings … there is no city anymore, only ruins, I couldn’t hold my tears”.

“My apartment has been partially destroyed, there are no more windows or walls,” Thaer described. “I will go back to my house, although it’s uninhabitable now, but it is still better than tents,” she added.

In the hours prior to Israel’s withdrawal from Khan Younis, the al-Qassam brigades announced that their fighters ambushed Israeli troops in the al-Zanneh neighborhood in the city, killing 14 soldiers. The Israeli army admitted the loss of four. The Israeli army also announced having destroyed three tunnels belonging to Hamas in Khan Younis.

On Sunday, the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Israeli army officers saying that the withdrawal came as a result of the army’s exhaustion after months of fighting. Officers said that without the Israeli army advancing to new positions, soldiers’ lives were being exposed to danger, and they hoped that the withdrawal would lure Palestinian fighters to come out of their hideouts “even if it leads to firing rockets.”

Palestinian Leader And Writer Walid Daqqa Dies In Israeli Prison At 62

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club announced on Monday the death in Israeli prison of Palestinian leader, writer, and intellectual Walid Daqqa at age 62. Daqqa had been imprisoned for 38 years.

Daqqa had been diagnosed with cancer in 2015. Israel refused to release him on humanitarian grounds due to his health deterioration in August of last year.

Daqqa was born in 1961 in the Palestinian town of Baqa in ‘48 Palestine, under the military rule imposed on Palestinian citizens of Israel at the time. Walid Daqqa was arrested in 1986 by Israeli forces, and sentenced to 37 years in prison for the charge of belonging to a PFLP cell, accused of kidnapping and later killing an Israeli soldier.

In 1996, Daqqa joined the Democratic Patriotic Assembly, a Palestinian party in Israel, and became a member of its central committee. In 1999, Daqqa married the Palestinian journalist and activist Sana’ Salameh, while in prison. Israel never allowed the couple to have conjugal visits.

Daqqa became a renowned writer and thinker while in Israeli jails. He wrote some of the most important works on the experience of resistance inside prison and prisoners’ lives. Daqqa also authored several books for children, in which he featured a child of a prisoner, symbolizing the child that he had been banned from fathering. His works have become significant references in Palestinian culture in recent years.

In 2020, Salameh gave birth to their daughter, Milad, conceived through Daqqa’s sperm which had been smuggled out of prison. The family was supposed to reunite after Daqqa’s release, initially scheduled for May 2023. However, an Israeli court sentenced him to an additional two years for charges of aiding in smuggling cell phones to Palestinian prisoners. His new release date was rescheduled for May 2025. On Sunday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Commission was informed of Walid Daqqa’s death by Israeli sources. Later, the commission and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club officially announced his death in a joint statement.

Daqqa’s health condition had been deteriorating since 2022, with his family accusing Israel of medical neglect. The spokesperson of the Prisoners’ Club, Ayah Shreiteh, told Mondoweiss on Monday that “Walid had been transferred back and forth between the Ramleh prison clinic and the Assaf Harofeh Israeli hospital for the past three months.”

“Prior to October 7, Walid had been held between the Gilboa prison and the Ramleh prison clinic, which lacks essential treatment for advanced cases of cancer like his,” Shreiteh said. “Since October 7, Walid’s condition deteriorated further, as he was banned from receiving any family visits, as all Palestinian prisoners,” she pointed out.

“Walid’s lawyer was able to visit him several times, the latest being a week ago, after which she told us, at the Prisoners’ Club, that she feared that it would be Walid’s last visit,” she noted.

“The lawyer described Walid’s condition, saying that his facial bones were visible and his voice was fading. He said that his transfer to the hospital had been repeatedly delayed until his condition was very difficult, and that during one of the transfers, Israeli prison guards handled him in such a manner that the medical tubes connected to his body were disconnected,” she detailed.

“Walid was constantly cuffed to his bed in the hospital, despite his dire condition, and he kept asking about his daughter, Milad, and his wife Sana’,” she added.

Late on Sunday, Walid Daqqa’s brother told Al Jazeera that Israeli authorities are delaying the release of his body. The brother said that the Israeli police told the family that the body continues to be in the hands of the Israeli prison services, for administrative paperwork before handing it over to the police. The family also said on Monday that Israeli authorities banned them from opening their house to receive condolences, according to Palestinian traditions.

The Prisoners’ Club told Mondoweiss that the final approval for the body’s release will have to come from the office of Israel’s security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Following the announcement of Daqqa’s death, Ben-Gvir said in public remarks that “unfortunately, Walid Daqqa’s life ended with natural death, and not with execution, as it was meant to from my point of view.”

Before October 7, Israel held some 200 ill Palestinians in its jails, including 24 with cancer. The Prisoners’ Club told Mondoweiss that “the current number of sick prisoners and detainees is impossible to estimate, as the occupation has arrested thousands, including many already sick, and as its violent crackdown on prisoners since October has caused harm to an unknown number of prisoners and detainees.”

Two Israelis Injured In West Bank Shooting, Number Of Palestinians Arrested Since October 7 Reaches 8,100

Two Israelis, including a female soldier, were reported injured in a shooting attack near the Palestinian village of Azoun, in the northwest of the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli media.

The attack targeted an Israeli settlers’ bus on an Israeli-only road near Azoun, in the Qalqilya governorate. The Israeli army radio reported that the attacker withdrew from the attack site on foot and that Israeli ground forces and drones launched a search campaign in the area.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Commission said in a statement on Monday that Israeli forces had arrested at least 8,100 Palestinians since October 7.

Since Saturday, Israeli forces have arrested 35 Palestinians across the West Bank. On Saturday, the Israeli army conducted a night raid on the ‘Lower Ramallah’ area surrounding the city’s old town, arresting several Palestinians including two women in their twenties, one of them a postgraduate student at Birzeit University.

Also on Saturday, Israeli forces raided Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Palestinian towns surrounding Jerusalem, arresting a total of 15 Palestinians.

On Sunday, Israeli forces raided Hebron, Tulkarem, the town of Ras Khamis in the periphery of Jerusalem, the surroundings of Qalqilya, the Ain al-sultan refugee camp in Jericho, and the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, arresting 20 Palestinians.

In the Tulkarem raid, Israeli forces bulldozed two streets in the city, damaging the services’ infrastructure, especially water pipelines. Israeli forces also raided a phone store in the city and field-interrogated its owner.

In Nablus, Israeli forces bulldozed and damaged the streets surrounding the Balata refugee camp in the southern part of the city, while firing light flares over the camp as its troops raided houses.

Currently, Israel holds 9,400 Palestinians in its jails, including 71 women, 200 children, and more than 3,600 detainees without charges.

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