Sunday, July 14, 2024

Palestinians told to leave Gaza City as Israel steps up offensive

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The Israeli military told all Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza City and head south on Wednesday as it stepped up a military offensive in the territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.

The evacuation order, carried out 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, came after a series of deadly strikes over the past two days in other parts of Gaza.

On Tuesday an airstrike on the entrance of a school turned shelter in southern Gaza killed at least 31 people, including eight children, according to officials at the nearby Nasser hospital. Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed children playing football in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with “precise munition” a Hamas fighter who had taken part in the 7 October raid on Israel that precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The area hit was crowded at the time of the attack, according to witnesses who spoke to the BBC.

Wednesday’s attack was the fourth on or near schools sheltering displaced Palestinians in four days. Israel has said that in every instance the sites were targeted because they were being used as bases by Hamas fighters, police officers or politicians.

map showing location of schools, refugee camps and humanitarian areas in Gaza City where people have been killed in last four days

Further Israeli strikes in the early hours of Wednesday morning killed at least 20 Palestinians. Associated Press reported that 12 people had been killed in the Nuseirat refugee camp and eight at a home in Deir al-Balah, an area that is located within the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to seek refuge.

In a visit to central Gaza on Wednesday, Israel’s military chief, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, said forces were operating in different ways in multiple parts of the territory “to carry out a very important mission: pressure. We will continue operating to bring home the hostages.”

Israeli ground troops have advanced into sections of Gaza City in the recent days, prompting a mass exodus of thousands of Palestinians seeking to flee the barrage of shelling and airstrikes. Last week, the military directed Palestinian residents to evacuate from the eastern and central areas of the city. Despite the directive, an immediate large-scale departure from the city did not materialise.

Many civilians told the Guardian they have concluded that there was no refuge in war-stricken Gaza and that they lacked confidence in the safe corridors set by Israel. Residents said they also feared that if they left, they would not be able to take belongings or return.

This is the first time that all residents of Gaza City have been asked to evacuate since the evacuation orders released by Israeli during the first week of war. Large parts of the city and urban areas around it have been flattened or left as a shattered landscape by previous Israeli assaults.

Palestinians have been ordered to evacuate to the south of the Gaza Strip with thousands migrating from eastern and central areas of Gaza City. Photograph: Omar Ashtawy/APAImages/Rex/Shutterstock

The last few days of airstrikes have been some of the fiercest since the war broke out. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, described the fighting as “the most intense in months”.

The intensified offensive could be aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas in ceasefire talks.

The new fighting has unfolded as international mediators led by Egypt, Qatar and the US make a renewed effort to push through a proposed ceasefire deal. Talks are due to continue in Doha and Cairo this week, attended by the CIA director, William Burns, and the Mossad chief, David Barnea. “There is an agreement over many points,” a senior source told Egypt’s Al Qahera news on Tuesday.

However, Hamas has again accused Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of deliberately trying to thwart the truce talks.

Netanyahu told a US envoy on Wednesday he was committed to securing a Gaza ceasefire deal provided Israel’s red lines were respected, his office said in a statement.

On Sunday Netanyahu’s office issued a document entitled Principles for a Hostage Release Deal demanding that “any deal enable Israel to resume its offensive operations until it achieves its war goals”, to “prevent Hamas from smuggling arms from Egypt”, and to prevent “thousands of terrorists from returning to northern Gaza”, Haaretz reported.

Pressure is mounting on Israel as a Gaza ceasefire could also allow for de-escalation between Hezbollah and Israel.

On Wednesday, the Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at a memorial event for a senior Hezbollah official who was killed in an Israeli strike last week, said that his group would end hostilities against Israel as soon as a ceasefire had been achieved in Gaza.

Reuters, AFP and Associated Press contributed to this report

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