240 dead in 24 hours: Palestinians flee as Israel's Gaza offensive moves south

Israel says the war in Gaza will continue for 'many more months' as airstrikes intensify, ITV News' Mark McQuillan reports

Palestinians sheltering from airstrikes in central Gaza have been told to evacuate as Israel's military bombarded a refugee camp in the area.

The instruction to flee comes as it appears Israel is preparing to expand its ground offensive in Gaza into the territory's central belt.

Its planned attack would include the Bureji refugee camp - those living, there after being displaced from their homes when airstrikes began, were urged to move to nearby Deir al-Balah on Tuesday.

The area could turn into a new battle zone, with Israeli forces already fighting in the northern neighbourhood of Daraj Tufah and in the southern city of Khan Younis.

Strikes have also been reported in the southern town of Rafah, areas where tens of thousands have sought refuge as much of northern Gaza was bombarded.

An Israeli move into central Gaza would drive Palestinians into smaller areas in search of refuge.

The military’s latest evacuation orders cover an area of central Gaza that was home to nearly 90,000 people before the war and now shelters more than 61,000 displaced people, mostly from the north, according to the UN.

Israel's offensive has killed more than 20,900 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

It said 240 people had been killed over the past 24 hours.

“We are gravely concerned about the continued bombardment of Middle Gaza by Israeli forces, which has claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives since Christmas Eve,” the UN human rights office said.

UN officials say a quarter of Gaza’s population is starving under Israel’s siege, which allows in only a trickle of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies.

The rubble of a building of the Al Nawasrah family destroyed in an Israeli strike in Maghazi refugee camp on Christmas Day 2023. Credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on Boxing Day 2023. Credit: AP / Leo Correa

Despite international pressure for a ceasefire, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the fight "isn't close to finished".

He has vowed to crush the ruling Hamas militant group in Gaza after its attack in southern Israel on October 7 -  where around 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage.

The UN Human Rights office said the continued bombardment of middle Gaza had claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives since Christmas Eve.

The office noted that Israel had ordered some residents to move there.

Also on Wednesday Israel moved into a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, killing at least six Palestinians.

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip set up tents in Deir al Balah. Credit: AP

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, an Israeli drone strike hit a group of Palestinians in the Nur Shams refugee camp next to the town of Tulkarem.

Lebanon also reported that a Hezbollah fighter and two civilians, a newlywed couple, were killed in an overnight Israeli strike on a home in the south of the country.

Hezbollah has been engaging in skirmishes with Israel ever since the conflict with Hamas broke out.

An Israeli soldier flashes a V-sign near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, on Christmas Day 2023 Credit: AP/Leo Correa

Meanwhile, US warplanes hit Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. It was after three US service members were injured, one critically, in a drone attack in northern Iraq on Christmas Day.

The Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups claimed credit for the attack.

Iraqi officials said the US strikes, which happened early on Tuesday killed one militant and wounded 18.

They came at a time of heightened fears of a regional spillover of the Israel-Hamas war.

The dangerous back-and-forth strikes have escalated since Iranian-backed militant groups under the umbrella group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria began striking US facilities October 17.

Iranian-backed militias have carried out more than 100 attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict more than two months ago.

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