San Francisco Chronicle

Thousands flee as Israel strikes Gaza City

- By Wafaa Shurafa and Samy Magdy

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Heavy Israeli bombardmen­t shook Gaza City on Tuesday as thousands of fleeing Palestinia­ns searched for shelter and as medical facilities were forced to shut down in the latest offensive in the territory’s north.

Israel’s new ground assault in the Gaza Strip’s largest city is its latest effort to battle Hamas militants regrouping in areas the army previously said had been largely cleared.

There was no immediate word on casualties. Families whose relatives were wounded or trapped were calling for ambulances, but first responders could not reach most of the affected districts because of the Israeli operations, said Nebal Farsakh, a spokespers­on for the Palestinia­n Red Crescent.

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 out patients and shut down, the United Nations said. Farsakh said all three medical points run by the Red Crescent in Gaza City had closed.

The Israeli military said Tuesday that it had told hospitals and other medical facilities in Gaza City that they did not need to evacuate.

In the past nine months, Israeli troops have occupied 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 U.N.’s humanitari­an office.

The U.N. humanitari­an office said the exodus in Gaza City was “dangerousl­y chaotic,” with people instructed to flee through neighborho­ods where fighting was underway.

It said the largest U.N. bakery in the city was forced to close, and that the fighting had blocked aid groups from accessing warehouses.

Separately in southern Gaza, an apparent Israeli airstrike on a school where displaced people were sheltering killed at least 25 people, according to an Associated Press reporter who counted the bodies at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Hospital spokespers­on Weam Fares said the dead included at least seven women and children and that the toll was likely to rise.

Earlier airstrikes in central Gaza killed at least 14 people, including a woman and four children, according to two hospitals that received the bodies.

Hamas has warned that the latest raids in Gaza City could lead to the collapse of negotiatio­ns over a cease-fire and hostage release.

Israel and Hamas had appeared to narrow the gaps in recent days, with the United States, Egypt and Qatar mediating.

CIA Director William Burns met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday in Cairo to discuss the negotiatio­ns, el-Sissi’s office said. More talks were to be held Wednesday in Qatar, where Hamas maintains a political office.

 ?? Abdel Kareem Hana/Associated Press ?? Palestinia­ns at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday mourn relatives killed in Israel’s bombardmen­t of the territory.
Abdel Kareem Hana/Associated Press Palestinia­ns at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday mourn relatives killed in Israel’s bombardmen­t of the territory.

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