The Guardian

Israel orders evacuation of Gaza City as it intensifie­s offensive across territory

- Lorenzo Tondo Jerusalem Malak A Tantesh Gaza Additional reporting Reuters, AFP and Associated Press

The Israeli military told all Palestinia­n civilians to leave Gaza City and head south yesterday, 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 had been harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with “precise munition” a Hamas fighter who took 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. Yesterday’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.

Further Israeli strikes in the early hours of yesterday 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 within the “humanitari­an safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinia­ns to seek refuge.

In a visit to central Gaza yesterday, Israel’s military chief, 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 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 yesterday’s directive, an immediate large-scale departure from the city did not materialis­e.

Many civilians told the Guardian they have concluded that there is no refuge in war-stricken Gaza and that they lack 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 and would not be able to return.

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

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

nd 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 yesterday he was committed to securing a Gaza ceasefire deal provided Israel‘s red lines were respected, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office issued a document entitled Principles for a hostage release deal. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that it demanded 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”.

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

Yesterday, 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 his group would end hostilitie­s against Israel as soon as a ceasefire was achieved in Gaza.

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