War shifts to southern Gaza as Israel enlarges evacuation zones and ramps up attacks

Israel intensifies airstrikes on Gaza
Israel intensifies airstrikes on Gaza - Photo Credit BBC

As the war between Israel and Hamas entered its third month, Israel’s military escalated its attacks on the southern part of Gaza, where it claims many Hamas leaders are hiding. It ordered more residents in and around the city of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest, to evacuate their homes.

The area of Khan Younis and the nearby city of Rafah, as well as some northern parts of Gaza, faced heavy bombardments overnight and on Sunday, as Israel continued its relentless air and ground campaign.

The south of Gaza is densely populated, as many of the 2.3 million people living in the territory fled there after Israel instructed civilians to leave the north in the early stages of the war.

The renewed violence dashed any hopes of another temporary cease-fire. A weeklong truce, which ended on Friday, had allowed the exchange of dozens of Israeli and foreign captives held by Gaza and Palestinians detained by Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to pursue the war until Israel achieved all its objectives, and said that a ground operation was indispensable for that. He made the statement in a speech on Saturday night.

A Doctors Without Borders convoy attacked in Gaza. The Hague must step in or stand accused itself of complicity in war crime.

UK to conduct aerial surveillance over Gaza to find captives

The British Ministry of Defence announced that it will launch aerial surveillance over Israel and Gaza to assist in finding the captives held by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group.

The ministry said in a statement that the British government has been collaborating with regional partners to secure the release of the captives, including British citizens, who were abducted during the terrorist attacks on Israel on 7 October 2023.

“The safety of British citizens is our utmost priority,” the statement added.

The statement said that the UK Ministry of Defence will conduct aerial surveillance over the Eastern Mediterranean, covering the airspace over Israel and Gaza, to support the hostage rescue operations.

The planes “will be unarmed” and “will not have any combat role”. Their only objective will be to locate the captives. “Only information relevant to the release of the captives will be shared with the appropriate authorities in charge of the hostage release.”

About 240 people were taken to the Gaza Strip after Hamas’ unprecedented lethal attack in southern Israel on 7 October.

A weeklong cease-fire facilitated the release of around a hundred captives in Hamas’ custody and 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

However, nearly 140 people remain in captivity in the Gaza Strip, as per Israeli authorities.

Israel expands evacuation orders in southern Gaza amid war

The Israeli military issued new evacuation orders for more areas and neighbour-hoods in and around the city of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest, on Sunday, urging residents to leave for their own safety.

According to residents, the Israeli military distributed leaflets instructing residents to relocate to the south of Rafah or to a coastal region in the southwest.

The leaflets stated that “Khan Younis city is a perilous war zone.”

A report by UN monitors, released before the latest evacuation orders, said that the residents who were asked to evacuate constituted about a quarter of Gaza’s territory. The report estimated that nearly 800,000 people lived in these areas before the war.

The United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, had cautioned Israel against causing further large-scale displacement before the fighting resumed.

IDF targets terror sites in Gaza as war rages on

The Israeli military announced on Sunday that its fighter jets and helicopters had “hit terror sites in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnel entrances, command posts and weapons depots” overnight, and that a drone had killed five Hamas militants.

In the north of Gaza, rescue workers with scarce resources rushed on Sunday to sift through the debris of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other areas in Gaza City, looking for possible survivors and corpses.

Amal Radwan, a woman taking refuge in Jabaliya, an urban refugee camp, said: “They strike everywhere. We hear explosions all the time.”

Mohamed Abu Abed, a resident of the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in Gaza City, also reported incessant airstrikes and artillery fire in his neighbourhood and nearby places.

He said: “The situation here is unimaginable. Death is everywhere. One can die in an instant.”

US Vice President decries rising death toll in Gaza war

The Health Ministry in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, announced on Saturday that the total number of deaths in the strip since the war began on 7 October had exceeded 15,200 – a sharp increase from the previous figure of over 13,300 on 20 November.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, but it said that women and children made up 70% of the dead. It said that more than 40,000 people had been injured since the start of the war.

The US urged the protection of civilians after an assault in the first weeks of the war ravaged large parts of northern Gaza.

The territory itself, which borders Israel and Egypt to the south, is closed off, leaving residents with no choice but to move within Gaza to escape the bombings.

“Too many innocent Palestinians have lost their lives. The extent of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are heartbreaking,” US Vice President Kamala Harris said to reporters on Saturday at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said that Israel was doing its “utmost” to safeguard civilians and that the military had used leaflets, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to warn Gazans to leave certain areas. He also said that Israel was contemplating creating a security buffer zone that would prevent Gazans from reaching the border fence on foot.

Israel targets Hamas sites in Gaza amid civilian deaths

Israel says it aims at Hamas members and holds the militants responsible for civilian deaths, alleging that they use residential areas as their bases. It asserts that it has killed thousands of militants, without giving any proof. Israel says that at least 78 of its soldiers have died in the operation in northern Gaza.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that airstrikes on Saturday demolished a block of around 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah area of Gaza City and a six-story building in the Jabaliya urban refugee camp on the city’s northern outskirts.

The monitors, quoting the Palestinian Red Crescent, said that more than 60 people died in the Shijaiyah attacks and more than 300 were trapped under the debris.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesperson for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said that rescuers did not have bulldozers and other equipment to access those buried under the debris, corroborating the Red Crescent’s estimate of about 300 people unaccounted for. He said that the block had accommodated over 1,000 people.

He said in a video statement from the location of the attack: “It is very hard to recover the martyrs.”

In the meantime, Kamala Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that the US would not allow “under any conditions” the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, a continuous blockade of Gaza or the alteration of its borders, as per a US summary.