Israelis lay siege to Khan Younis; U.N. agency fires staffers over Oct. 7 allegations

A Palestinian youth stands amid damage to his home caused by Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Israeli forces said they have inflicted a "large number" of casualties on Hamas fighter this week as they advance in the city of Khan Younis. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Israel ramped up a major offensive against Hamas militants in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Saturday as a United Nations agency announced it has fired staffers over their alleged involvement in Hamas' Oct. 7 terror assault.

The Israel Defense Forces are conducting high-intensity military operations in Khan Younis to root out Hamas in an area where many hostages are thought to be kept, resulting in a "large number" of militants killed in fighting on Saturday, military sources told the Times Of Israel.

More than 100 Hamas fighters have died in the advance in the city, during which IDF troops claimed to have found weapons at the home of an unnamed associate of Hamas leader Yahyah Sinwar, local media reported.

The raid occurred a day after officials in the United States and several other nations ceased funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza due to potential terrorist activities by several employees.

The UNRWA fired a dozen workers whom Israeli officials accused of participating in the Oct. 7 surprise attack carried out by Hamas in which about 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 more were kidnapped.

"To protect the Agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay," UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement issued Friday.

"Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," he said.

UNRWA officials on Wednesday reported "mass casualties" at its complex in Khan Younis after being shelled by Israeli forces.

IDF officials said one of its tanks fired at militants aiming anti-tank devices from the UNRWA complex.