Israel Hamas war: Israel widens evacuation orders as offensive shifts to southern Gaza

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The latest developments in the Israel-Hamas war.

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The Israeli military has ordered the evacuation of multiple areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis, moving its offensive to the southern half of the territory where many Hamas leaders are reportedly hiding.

Heavy shelling was reported overnight and into Sunday in the Khan Younis area and the southern city of Rafah, as well as parts of the north that had previously been the focus of Israel’s violent air and ground campaign.

Many of the territory’s 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israeli forces ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the two-month war.

As fighting resumed, hopes that another temporary truce could be negotiated faded. A week-long ceasefire that expired on Friday had facilitated the release of dozens of Israeli and foreign hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

“We will continue the war until we achieve all the objectives, and it is impossible to achieve these objectives without the ground operation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Saturday evening.

Evacuation orders are intensified

On Sunday, the Israeli military expanded evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis, asking residents of at least five other areas and neighborhoods to leave for their safety.

Residents said the Israeli army dropped leaflets ordering residents to move south, to Rafah, or to a coastal area in the southwest.

“The city of Khan Younis is a dangerous combat zone,” the flyers read.

United Nations monitors said in a report published before the latest evacuation orders that the residents who were told to leave make up about a quarter of Gaza’s territory. The report states that these areas were home to nearly 800,000 people before the war.

Before the fighting resumed, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, had warned Israel to avoid significant new mass displacements.

New targets hit by IDF

The Israeli military said Sunday that its fighter jets and helicopters “hit terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnels, command centers and weapons depots” overnight, while a drone killed five Hamas fighters .

In northern Gaza, rescue teams with little equipment scrambled Sunday to dig through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other neighborhoods of Gaza city looking for potential survivors and corpses.

“They strike everywhere,” said Amal Radwan, a refugee woman in Jabaliya, an urban refugee camp. “There is the continuous sound of explosions around us.”

Mohamed Abu Abed, who lives in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, also said there had been relentless airstrikes and artillery shelling in his neighborhood and surrounding areas.

“The situation here is imaginable,” he said. “Death is everywhere. You can die in a flash.”

The US vice president condemns the increase in the number of victims

The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Saturday that the overall death toll in the Strip since the war began on October 7 has exceeded 15,200, a sharp increase from the previous tally of more than 13,300 on November 20.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths, but said 70% of the dead were women and children. More than 40,000 people are said to have been injured since the war began.

The US calls to protect civilians came after an offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza.

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The territory itself, bordering Israel and Egypt to the south, is sealed off, leaving residents with no option but to move within Gaza to avoid bombing.

“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming out of Gaza are devastating,” US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and that the army had used leaflets, phone calls and radio and television broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas. He added that Israel is considering creating a security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access on foot to the border fence.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas hideouts, presumably among civilians

Israel says it is targeting Hamas operatives and blaming the militants for civilian casualties, accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. He claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence. Israel says at least 78 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

Saturday’s shelling destroyed a block of about 50 residential buildings in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood and a six-story building in the Jabaliya urban refugee camp on the northern edge of the city, the United Nations Office for Coordination said of humanitarian affairs.

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More than 60 people were killed in the Shijaiyah attacks and more than 300 buried under rubble, observers said, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Mahmoud Bassal, spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Protection, said rescuers lacked bulldozers and other equipment to reach people buried under the rubble, confirming the Red Crescent’s estimate of around 300 missing. He said the block had housed over 1,000 people.

“Recovering the martyrs is extremely difficult,” he said in video comments from the site of the attack.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that “under no circumstances” would the United States allow the forcible relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of Gaza, or the redrawing of its borders, according to a US summary.

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