Israel orders all Palestinians to leave Gaza’s largest city

08:11 PM Jul 10, 2024 | PTI |

Deir al-Balah (AP): The Israeli military urged all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south on Wednesday, pressing ahead with a fresh offensive across the north, south and centre of the embattled territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.


The stepped up military activity came as US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators were meeting with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks trying to push through a long-elusive cease-fire deal with Gaza’s Hamas militant group.

Israel says it is pursuing Hamas fighters regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the military’s devastating offensive. But heavy strikes in recent days along the length of the territory also could be aimed at hiking up pressure on Hamas in the cease-fire efforts.

Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to flee south months ago as it operated in the area. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have remained in the hard-hit north, and many Palestinians say they have nowhere to go. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza.

Ground troops have pushed into parts of Gaza City in recent days, triggering the flight of thousands of Palestinians trying to escape shelling and airstrikes. The past week, the military ordered Palestinians to evacuate from eastern and central parts of the city.


Israel informed people in Gaza of the evacuation order by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al-Balah. Gaza City, it said, will “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

In the second straight night of deadly strikes in central Gaza, Israeli bombardment early Wednesday hit four houses in the town of Deir al-Balah and the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, killing 20 Palestinians.

Among the dead were six children and three women, said authorities at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the casualties were taken. An Associated Press reporter counted the bodies. The house hit in Deir al-Balah was located inside the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to flee for refuge.

The overnight bombardment came hours after Israeli warplanes struck the entrance of a school sheltering displaced families outside the southern city of Khan Younis. The toll from the strike rose to 31 people killed, including eight children, and more than 50 wounded, officials at the nearby Nasser Hospital said Wednesday.

Footage aired by Al-Jazeera television showed kids playing soccer in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

The Israeli army said the airstrike near the school and reports of civilian casualties were under review, and claimed it was targeting a Hamas militant who took part in the October 7 attack on Israel, though it provided no immediate evidence. The military blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, urban areas. But the army rarely comments on what it is targeting in individual strikes, which often kill women and children.

In nine months of bombardment and offensives in Gaza, Israel has killed more than 38,200 people and wounded more than 88,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. Nearly the entire population has been driven from their homes. Many have been displaced multiple times. Hundreds of thousands are packed into sweltering tent camps.

Israel’s onslaught was triggered by Hamas’ cross-border raid on October 7, during which militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities. The militants took roughly 250 people hostage. About 120 are still in captivity, with about a third said to be dead.

Large parts of Gaza City and urban areas around it in northern Gaza have been flattened or left a shattered landscape by previous Israeli assaults, and much of the population fled earlier in the war. But several hundred thousand people are believed to remain in the north.

Israel’s new ground assault in Gaza’s largest city has prompted what the U.N called a “dangerously chaotic” exodus of people scattering in multiple directions, unsure where to go. Some have fled to other parts of the north. The new Israeli military leaflets encouraged a mass movement south to the purported “humanitarian zone,” promising that people leaving Gaza City on the defined routes would not be stopped at Israeli checkpoints. Many Palestinians fear arrest or humiliation by troops at the checkpoints.

After Israel on Monday called for an evacuation from eastern and central parts of Gaza City, staff at two hospitals — Al-Ahli and the Patients Friends Association Hospital — rushed to move patients and shut down, the United Nations said.

The Episcopal Church in the Middle East, which operates Al-Ahli, said the hospital was “compelled to close by the Israeli army.” The Israeli military said Tuesday that it told hospitals and other medical facilities in Gaza City they did not need to evacuate.

Hospitals in Gaza have often evacuated pre-emptively at any sign of possible Israeli military action, fearing raids. In the past nine months, Israeli troops have attacked at least eight hospitals, causing the deaths of patients and medical workers along with massive destruction to facilities and equipment. Israel has claimed Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes, though it has provided only limited evidence.

Only 13 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning, and those only partially, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian office.

International mediators were making a new concerted effort to push through a proposed deal for a cease-fire and release of hostages.

Israel and Hamas had appeared to narrow the gaps in recent days, but obstacles remain, even after Hamas agreed to relent on its key demand that Israel commit to ending the war as part of any agreement.

Hamas still wants mediators to guarantee that negotiations conclude with a permanent cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not sign any deal forcing Israel to stop its campaign in Gaza without eliminating Hamas. Hamas on Monday accused Netanyahu of “putting more obstacles in the way of negotiations,” including the operations in Gaza City.

An Egyptian official said the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, went to Doha to join discussions over the deal. The official said US and Israeli officials were also attending. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press on the meetings. A day earlier, CIA Director William Burns, who has led the American mediation, met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo.

More than 85 per cent of Israelis support a full or temporary cease-fire deal, according to a poll from the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank. The survey of 850 Israelis, both Hebrew and Arabic-speaking, had a margin of error of 3.85 per cent.

Far-right Israeli politicians — on whom Netanyahu relies to keep his governing coalition alive — remain steadfastly against a deal. Earlier this week, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich brandished a photo of Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar making a “V-for-victory” gesture, and he wrote on X that a deal will allow “murderous terrorists with blood on their hands to continue to murder Jews.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, also part of the extreme right, has been pressing for a spot on Netanyahu’s War Cabinet, which could give him greater power to scuttle a deal. For leverage, he has been exploiting political infighting over religious issues with ultra-Orthodox parties, threatening to weaken Netanyahu’s coalition. (AP)


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