Gaza (Reuters) – Israel ordered people out of swathes of the main southern city in the Gaza Strip on Monday as it pressed its ground campaign deep into the south, sending desperate residents fleeing even as bombs fell on areas still described as safe.
Israel’s military posted a map on X on Monday morning with around a quarter of the city of Khan Younis marked off in yellow as territory that must be evacuated at once. Three arrows pointed south and west, telling people to head further towards the Mediterranean sea and the Egyptian border.
Many of those taking flight were already displaced from other areas, many sleeping rough under makeshift shelters with their few remaining belongings in plastic bags.
Abu Mohammed told Reuters it was now the third time he had been forced to flee since abandoning his home in Gaza City in the north.
“Last night Israeli tanks shelled from the east, and the north, and the west too from (naval ships in) the direction of the sea, rings of fire around us, and the house kept shaking and covered in red light from the explosions, causing panic and horror for the adults and the children alike,” he said. “Why did they eject us from our homes in Gaza (City) if they planned to kill us here?”
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At a home in Khan Younis that was struck overnight, flames licked the collapsed masonry and grey smoke billowed out from the rubble. A child’s stuffed toy of a sheep lay in a pile of dust. Boys were picking through the wreckage with bare hands.
Next door, Nesrine Abdelmoty stood amid damaged furniture in the rented room where she lives with her divorced daughter and two-year-old baby.
“We were sleeping at 5:00 am when we felt things collapse, everything went upside down,” she told Reuters. “They told (people) to move from the north to Khan Younis, since the south is safer. And now, they’ve bombed Khan Younis. Even Khan Younis is not safe now, and even if we move to Rafah, Rafah is not safe as well. Where do they want us to go?
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As many as 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an Israeli bombing campaign that has reduced much of the crowded coastal strip to a desolate wasteland. Medical officials in the enclave say bombing has killed more than 15,500 people, with thousands more missing and feared buried in rubble.
Israel launched its assault to annihilate Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamists in retaliation for an Oct. 7 attack by its gunmen, who killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages according to Israeli tallies.
Israeli forces largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday they have swiftly pushed deep into the southern half. Tanks driving into Gaza from the border fence in the east along the road that divides Khan Younis from the city of Balah al-Deir further north have reached a flour mill half way to the Mediterranean coast, cutting off the main north-south road, residents say.
ISRAELI GROUND OPERATION ‘IN ALL OF THE GAZA STRIP’
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) continues to extend its ground operation against Hamas centres in all of the Gaza Strip,” Israel’s top military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, told reporters in Tel Aviv overnight. “The forces are coming face-to-face with terrorists and killing them.”
It released footage of troops patrolling in tanks and on foot, in fields and in badly damaged urban areas, and firing from weapons, without specifying the location inside Gaza.
Government spokesperson Eylon Levy said the military had struck more than 400 targets over the weekend “including extensive aerial attacks in the Khan Younis area” and had also killed Hamas militants and destroyed their infrastructure in Beit Lahiya in the north.
The United Nations humanitarian office said the southern areas ordered evacuated since the truce were home to more than 350,000 people before the war, not counting the hundreds of thousands now sheltering there from other areas.
Israel’s closest ally the United States has publicly called on Israel to do more to safeguard civilians in the southern part of the Gaza Strip than in last month’s campaign in the north, especially as there are so many people already homeless there.
Israel permitted additional humanitarian supplies to enter the enclave during the truce, but the United Nations says this was paltry compared to the territory’s vast humanitarian need, and has now been interrupted by the renewed fighting.
During the truce, Hamas released 105 of its hostages in return for 240 Palestinian detainees. But with most women, and children hostages now believed free, the truce collapsed over terms for releasing more, including Israeli men and soldiers. Israel says 136 hostages are still being held.