Thousands flee their homes as Israeli forces bomb southern Gaza

Eight Palestinians were killed, and dozens wounded, health officials said. Israel's military said that two soldiers had been killed in battle a day earlier.
Last Updated : 02 July 2024, 10:37 IST

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Cairo/Gaza: Israeli forces bombarded several areas of the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday and thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in what could be part of a final push of Israel's intensive military operations in nine months of war.

Eight Palestinians were killed, and dozens wounded, health officials said. Israel's military said that two soldiers had been killed in battle a day earlier.

Israel's leaders have said they were winding down the phase of intense fighting against Hamas, the Islamist group that has governed Gaza since 2007, and would soon shift into more targeted operations.

Later on Tuesday, 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli tank shelling of a street in the densely populated Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza City in the north of the Strip, medics said. Footage on some Palestinian social media that Reuters was not immediately able to verify showed the scene at a local market, with bread scattered on a floor stained with blood.

The Israeli army had ordered residents of several towns and villages in eastern Khan Younis to evacuate their homes on Monday, prior to tanks re-entering the area the military had left several weeks ago.

Thousands who had not heeded the call were forced to flee their homes in the dark overnight, as Israeli tanks and planes bombed Karara, Abassan and other areas that had been named in the evacuation orders, residents and Hamas media said.

"Where will we go?" said Tamer, a 55-year-old businessman, who has been displaced six times since October 7.

"Every time people go back to their homes and begin to rebuild some of their lives even on the rubble of their houses, the occupation sends the tanks back to destroy what is left," he told Reuters via a chat app.

The Israeli military said its forces had struck areas in Khan Younis from where around 20 rockets had been fired on Monday. Targets included weapon storage facilities and operational centres, it added.

It said measures were taken before the strikes to ensure civilians were unharmed by enabling them to evacuate from the area, referring to the evacuation orders. The military accused Hamas of using civilian infrastructure and the wider population as human shields. The Islamist group denies that.

Islamic Jihad, an allied group of Hamas, took credit for firing the rockets.

Endgame in Rafah

The war in Gaza began when Hamas burst into southern Israel on October 7, killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages, including civilians and soldiers, back into Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive launched by Israel in retaliation has killed nearly 38,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has left the heavily built-up coastal enclave in ruins.

The Gaza health ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, but officials say most of the dead are civilians. Israel says 320 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza and that at least a third of the Palestinian dead are fighters.

Within the areas subject to evacuation orders was the European Gaza Hospital, which serves both Khan Younis and Rafah, and medical officials had to evacuate patients and families who had taken shelter in the facility, witnesses and medics said.

Some residents headed west towards the Mawasi area by the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area but is overcrowded by displaced families. Some slept in the street as they could not find shelter.

Israel says that its operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt, that was meant to stamp out Hamas in its final redoubt will soon be concluded.

After the intense phase of the war is over, its forces will focus on smaller-scale operations meant to stop Hamas from regrouping, officials say.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was nearing its goal of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas. Less intense operations would continue, he said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to stage attacks against Israeli forces operating inside Gaza and fire rockets into Israel. Hamas says Israel has failed to achieve the goals of the war and the group is ready to fight for years.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages in Gaza have stalled. Hamas says any deal must end the war and bring a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting until Hamas is eradicated.

Published 02 July 2024, 10:37 IST

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