Israel widens evacuation orders as ground offensive prepares to target southern Gaza

Israel's military has ordered more areas around Khan Younis to evacuate as it shifts its offensive to southern Gaza where it says many Hamas leaders are hiding

  • Israel has told residents to evacuate as forces pounded targets in crowded southern Gaza on Sunday.

  • Israel military says it hit hundreds of Hamas targets and has destroyed about 500 tunnel shafts in Gaza.

  • The UK says it will conduct surveillance flights over Israel and Gaza to help locate Hamas hostages.

  • The death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 15,500, the Hamas-run health ministry said, with 70% reported to be women and children.

  • Ceasefire talks have collapsed after Israel pulled its negotiators from Qatar, blaming Hamas for not fulfilling 'its part in the agreement'.

  • The first aid trucks have been permitted to enter Gaza since the ceasefire ended, said the Palestinian Red Crescent, but officials continue to sound the alarm over the worsening humanitarian situation.

Israel has told residents in crowded southern Gaza to evacuate as forces pounded targets on Sunday as the military's offensive shifted away from the north.

"The IDF is resuming and expanding the ground operation against Hamas’ strongholds across the whole Gaza Strip," Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a news conference.

Hagari also underlined "the importance of air assistance provided by the Air Force to ground forces," saying airstrikes against terror headquarters, weapons manufacturing facilities, terror tunnels, and rocket launching sites limit the threats posed against the ground operation.

"Our policy is clear — we will forcefully strike any threat posed against our territory," he added. 

It comes after civilians were told to leave a number of neighborhoods in southern parts of the enclave, after it resumed its military offensive there.

The IDF told people to evacuate several areas southeast of Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza where many have looked for shelter in recent weeks. 

But fears are mounting over where civilians are to go, with the UN estimating that up to 1.8 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, having already had to leave their homes.

The Health Ministry said the overall death toll in Gaza since Hamas' attack on southern Israel on October 7 has risen to more than 15,500. The ministry said 70% of the dead were women and children. More than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began, the ministry said.

“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating,” US vice president Kamala Harris told reporters during the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

Israel’s military said it has destroyed about 500 tunnel shafts in Gaza, including more than 50 in Khan Younis city and surrounding areas in the south. It claimed it had located more than 800 tunnel shafts in the Palestinian enclave, claiming many of the tunnel shafts "were located in civilian areas" and inside civilian structures. 

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Saturday Credit: Fatima Shbair/AP/PA

A block of about 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City and a six-storey building in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the northern edge of the city were destroyed in strikes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

More than 60 people were killed in the Shijaiyah strikes with more than 300 buried under the rubble, the monitors said, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Israel's military said it killed a Hamas battalion commander in the area but gave no details on the operation.

The strike in Jabaliya left dozens dead or wounded, said residents Hamza Obeid and Amal Radwan.

The Israeli military confirmed it was operating in Jabaliya and said it had found and destroyed Hamas tunnels in the surrounding area. The residential building was hit 90 minutes after troops had dropped leaflets ordering residents to evacuate, UN monitors said.

A Palestinian man sits in an armchair outside a destroyed building in Gaza City. Credit: AP

“Where is it safe? I swear to God, no one knows, where are we going?” asked Zohair al Raai, who said his family received a recorded message saying their building should evacuate.

With the resumption of fighting, the Israeli military published an online map carving up Gaza into hundreds of numbered parcels and asked residents to familiarise themselves with the number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.

On Saturday, the military dropped leaflets with evacuation orders over towns east of Khan Younis, Jabaliya and eastern neighbourhoods of Gaza City.

The maps and leaflets generated panic and confusion in an area where people cannot go to northern Gaza or neighbouring Egypt and are left to move around within the 220-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) area.

“There is no place to go,” said Emad Hajar, who fled to Khan Younis a month ago. “They expelled us from the north, and now they are pushing us to leave the south."

Airstrikes continued on Gaza as the ceasefire talks fell through between Israel and Hamas. Credit: AP

Mark Regev, a senior advisor to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort" to protect civilians and the military has used leaflets, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas.

Israel says it targets Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighbourhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence. Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

The October 7 attack by Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. Around 240 people were taken captive.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 137 hostages, who the Israeli military says are still being held after 105 were freed during the ceasefire. A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz. She is the eighth hostage known to have died.

During the ceasefire, Israel freed 240 Palestinians. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.

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