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Khan Yunis (Arabic: خان يونس, also spelled Khan Younis or Khan Yunus; translation: Caravanserai [of] Yunis) is a city in the southern Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Khan Yunis had a population of 142,637 in 2007 and 202,000 in 2010 and 350,000 in 2012. Although Khan Yunis lies only four kilometers east of the Mediterranean Sea, its climate is semi-arid with temperature of 30 degrees Celsius maximum in summer and 10 degrees Celsius maximum in winter, with an annual rainfall of approximately 260 mm.
The Constituency of Khan Yunis had five members on the Palestinian Legislative Council. Following the Palestinian legislative election, 2006, there were three Hamas members, including Yunis al-Astal; and two Fatah members, including Mohammed Dahlan. The city is now under the Hamas administration of Gaza.
Establishment by Mamluks
Before the 14th century, Khan Yunis was a village known as "Salqah." To protect caravans, pilgrims and travelers a vast khan ("caravansary") was constructed there by the emir Yunus al-Nûrûzi in 1387-88. The khan and the growing town surrounding it were named "Khan Yunis" after him. In 1389 Yunus was killed in battle. Yunus ibn Abdallah an-Nuzuri ad-Dawadar was the executive secretary, one of the high-ranking officials of the Mamluk sultan Barquq. The town became an important center for trade and its weekly Thursday market drew traders from neighboring regions.
The khan served as resting stop for couriers of the barid, the Mamluk postal network in Palestine and Syria.
In late 1516 Khan Yunis was the site of a minor battle in which the Egypt-based Mamluks were defeated by Ottoman forces under the leadership of Sinan Pasha. The Ottoman sultan Selim II thereby arrived to the area where he led the Ottoman army across the Sinai Peninsula to conquer Egypt.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the Ottomans assigned an Azeban garrison associated with the Cairo Citadel to guard the fortress at Khan Yunis. At the end of the 19th-century the Ottomans established a municipal council to administer the affairs of Khan Yunis, which had become the second largest town in the Gaza District after Gaza itself.
During the night of 31 August 1955, three Israeli paratroop companies attacked(Mivtza Elkayam) the British-built Tegart fort in Khan Yunis from where attacks had been carried out against Israelis. The police station, a petrol station and several buildings in the village of Abasan were destroyed, as well as railway tracks and telegraph poles. In heavy fighting, 72 Egyptian soldiers were killed. One Israeli soldier was killed and 17 were wounded. The operation led to a ceasefire on September 4, forcing President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Egyptian government to halt Palestinian fedayeen operations against Israel. One of the mechanized companies was commanded by Rafael Eitan.
Before the Suez War, Khan Yunis was officially administered by the All-Palestine Government, seated in Gaza and later in Cairo. After a fierce firefight, the Sherman tanks of the IDF 37th Armored Brigade broke through the heavily fortified lines outside of Khan Yunis held by the 86th Palestinian Brigade. It was the only site in the Gaza strip where the Egyptian army put up any resistance to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, but it surrendered on 3 November 1956.
There are conflicting reports of what happened. Israel said that Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces were still facing armed resistance, while the Palestinians said all resistance had ceased by then, and that many unarmed civilians were killed as the Israel troops went through the town and camp, seeking men in possession of arms.
The killings were reported to the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1956 by the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Henry Labouisse. According to the report, the exact number of dead and wounded is not known, but the director received lists of names of persons allegedly killed from a trustworthy source, including 275 people, of which 140 were refugees and 135 local residents. The Israeli Historian Meir Pail disputes the accuracy of these figures, and says there was never a killing of such a degree, and that nobody was murdered.
After 1959, the All-Palestine Government of Gaza Strip was abolished and the city was included in the United Arab Republic, which was shortly disestablished and the Gaza Strip came under the direct Egyptian military occupation rule.
In the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, Khan Yunis came under the control of the newly established Palestinian Authority.
Khan Yunis was the site of Israeli helicopter attacks in August 2001 and October 2002 that left several civilians killed, hundreds wounded and civilian buildings within the vicinity destroyed. It is known as a stronghold of Hamas.
The northern part of Khan Yunis overlooks the Kissufim junction — formerly one of the main roads for Israeli traffic to Gush Katif settlement. Buildings there had often been used by militants as sniping posts and mortar bases to shoot at Israeli settlements and soldiers.
From Khan Yunis' northern buildings, two Palestinian militants killed an Israeli civilian Tali Hatuel, who was eight months pregnant, and her four daughters, ages 2 to 11, on May 2, 2004, forcing them off the road and shooting them at close range. The next week, her memorial service was attacked at the same site. One building was also used as cover for an explosive-laden tunnel, which blew up an Israeli (IDF) occupation outpost on June 27 of that year. After each attack, the Israeli Defence Forces bulldozed some of the structures used by the militants.
On December 16, 2004, the Israel Defense Forces raided the town with armoured bulldozers and tanks in order to stop mortar shelling of Israeli towns. In the six weeks before the operation, about 80 mortar shells and Qassam rockets had hit the Gush Katif settlement. Khan Yunis have been the target of frequent raids by the Israeli defence forces, and heavy battles have ensued in the area. In 2005, Israel attempted to isolate the area, but failed because of Hamas resistance.
In 2006 Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip. Since Israel's 2005 Gaza Disengagement, over 2,000 Qassam rockets have been launched from Khan Yunis into Israel, mostly to the Southern Israeli city of Sderot. In January 2009, members of the Shurrab family were killed by Israeli Defence Force members during a "lull" in fighting in the war in Gaza.
Khan Yunis is the second largest urban area in the Gaza Strip after Gaza City. It serves as the principal market center of the southern territory's southern half and hosts a weekly Bedouin souk ("open-air market") mostly involving local commodities. As of 2012 Khan Yunis had the highest unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories.
Twin towns — Sister cities
Khan Yunis is twinned with the following cities:
- 2007 PCBS Census. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). 2009. p. 63.
- Sharon, 1997, p. 228.
- Sharon, 1997, p. 229.
- Abu-Khalaf, Marwan. Khan Younis City. El-Agha. July 2002.
- Pitcher, p. 105.
- Hathaway, 2002, p. 38.
- Feldman, 2008, p. 21
- Katz, Samuel M. (1988) Israeli Elite Units since 1948. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-837-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Page 10
- Israel's reprisal policy, 1953-1956: the dynamics of military retaliation By Zeʼev Derori. p.142
- Morris, Benny (1993) Israel's Border Wars, 1949 - 1956. Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-827850-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Page 350.
- Varble, Derek The Suez Crisis 1956, Osprey: London, 2003 page 46.
- Joe Sacco produces comics from the hot zones. New York Times.
- UNRWA Report to the UN General Assembly November 1 – December 14, 1956 "The town of Khan Yunis and the Agency's camp adjacent thereto were occupied by Israel troops on the morning of 3 November. A large number of civilians were killed at that time, but there is some conflict in the accounts given as to the causes of the casualties. The Israel authorities state that there was resistance to their occupation and that the Palestinian refugees formed part of the resistance. On the other hand, the refugees state that all resistance had ceased at the time of the incident and that many unarmed civilians were killed as the Israel troops went through the town and camp, seeking men in possession of arms. The exact number of dead and wounded is not known, but the Director has received from sources he considers trustworthy lists of names of persons allegedly killed on 3 November, numbering 275 individuals, of whom 140 were refugees and 135 local residents of Khan Yunis."
- Graphic novel on IDF 'massacres' in Gaza set to hit bookstores. The Associated Press.
- Silverin, Eric (May 3, 2004). "Pregnant mum and her four children killed in terror attack". Irish Independent.
- Thomas, p. 382.
- Irving, p. 230.
- Guérin, Victor (1869). Description Géographique Historique et Archéologique de la Palestine. Vol 1; Judee, pt. 2. p. 226
- Sharon, Moshe (1997). Corpus inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, (CIAP) (Illustrated ed.). BRILL. ISBN 90-04-11083-6, 9789004110830 Check
- Sacco, Joe (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-7347-7 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].