Israel pounds Gaza after evacuation order

The bombardment came after a rocket barrage at southern Israel on Monday morning claimed by the militant group Islamic Jihad, which has fought alongside Hamas.

Published - July 02, 2024 10:27 pm IST - Gaza Strip

Palestinians, who fled the eastern part of Khan Younis after they were ordered by Israeli army to evacuate their neighborhoods, ride on a vehicle loaded with belongings, amid Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 2, 2024.

Palestinians, who fled the eastern part of Khan Younis after they were ordered by Israeli army to evacuate their neighborhoods, ride on a vehicle loaded with belongings, amid Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 2, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Israeli forces carried out deadly strikes on Tuesday on southern Gaza and battled militants after issuing an evacuation order which a UN agency said would impact 2,50,000 Palestinians.

Witnesses reported intense bombing and shelling around Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, from which Israeli troops withdrew in early April after a devastating months-long battle.

A hospital source in the city said shelling killed eight persons and wounded more than 30 others.

The bombardment came after a rocket barrage at southern Israel on Monday morning claimed by the militant group Islamic Jihad, which has fought alongside Hamas.

This was followed by an order to evacuate most areas east of Khan Younis and in Rafah along the borders with Israel and Egypt.

The UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees estimated Tuesday that a quarter of a million people had been impacted since Israel’s army issued a new evacuation order for parts of southern Gaza a day earlier.

“We’ve seen people moving, families moving, people starting to pack up their belongings and try to leave this area,” UNRWA spokeswoman Louise Wateridge told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Gaza.

The agency “estimates that around 250,000 people have been impacted by these orders”, she said, adding: “We expect these numbers to grow”.

Her comments came after the Israeli army Monday issued a new evacuation order for parts of Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza.

An AFP photographer saw Palestinians leave eastern Khan Yunis on foot, in cars and on horse or donkey carts, carrying their belongings with them.

Some displaced people with nowhere to go were sleeping on the streets, witnesses said.

Ahmad Najjar, a resident of the town of Bani Suhaila, said the Israeli evacuation order had caused "a large displacement of residents" and spurred "fear and extreme anxiety".

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees estimates that "around 2,50,000 people have been impacted by these orders", said UNRWA spokeswoman Louise Wateridge.

"We expect that almost all of these people will move from this area," she said.

Six consecutive days of intense battles followed a similar evacuation order issued last week for the Gaza City district of Shujaiya.

An AFP correspondent reported artillery shelling in the northern area on Tuesday, and witnesses said gun battles raged on.

The military said its forces were operating in Shujaiya, central Gaza and Rafah, where aircraft carried out strikes and troops "ambushed an armed terrorist squad" in a car and killed them.

Strikes a 'daily routine'

Over the past day, the Israeli air force "struck approximately 30 terror targets" across Gaza, said a military statement.

In Shujaiya, Palestinian militants "were eliminated and dozens of terrorist infrastructure sites above and below ground were dismantled, including tunnel shafts", it added.

In central Gaza, witnesses said strikes hit the Nuseirat refugee camp where the Palestinian Red Crescent reported at least one dead, a child.

Mohamed al-Jalees, displaced from Shujaiya to Nuseirat, helped clear the rubble and search for survivors.

"A missile struck our neighbours' house," he told AFP. "We rushed to check on them, and some were rescued alive (but) we found a martyred child."

"I have been displaced here for nine months... This is our daily routine."

Other parts of the Gaza Strip were reeling from continued fighting nearly nine months into the war, which was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel and has led to a dire humanitarian crisis.

Months of on-and-off talks towards a truce and hostage release deal have made little progress, even after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared more than a week ago that the "intense phase" of the war was winding down.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that "we've heard the Israelis talk about a significant downshift in their operations in Gaza".

"It remains to be seen."

The latest order to leave parts of southern Gaza follows an evacuation of Rafah nearly two months ago which had signalled the start of a long-feared Israeli offensive that has uprooted many Palestinians and blocked a key aid route.

'Failure'

Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive aimed at eradicating the Palestinians militants in Gaza has killed at least 37,925 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The military announced two soldiers were killed in central Gaza, taking to 319 its death toll since ground operations began in late October.

Israeli authorities on Monday released Mohammed Abu Salmiya, director of Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital -- the territory's largest medical complex, ravaged by Israeli raids -- along with dozens of other detainees returned to Gaza for treatment.

Abu Salmiya said he had suffered "severe torture" during his detention.

"Several inmates died in interrogation centres and were deprived of food and medicine," he said after his release.

Israel has accused Hamas of using Al-Shifa and other hospitals as a cover for military operations, claims Gaza militants have rejected.

Netanyahu said the release had been made without his knowledge, and that Abu Salmiya belongs "in prison" because Israeli hostages were "murdered and held" in the hospital.

The director's return to Gaza was "a serious mistake and a moral failure", Netanyahu said.

According to Abu Salmiya, Israel brought no charges against him during his seven-month detention.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency said the release was "to free up places in detention centres".

Those sent back to Gaza "represent a lesser danger" and were not directly involved in attacks on Israeli civilians, it said.

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