Israeli military urges all Gaza City residents to leave

Israel’s fresh offensive across north, south and centre of embattled territory kills dozens in past 48 hours

A Palestinian man leads a donkey cart past the destroyed buildings and rubble after the Israeli military withdrew from the Shujaiya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City on Wednesday. Photograph: Omar AL-Qattaa/AFP via Getty Images

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on Wednesday called on all residents of Gaza city to evacuate south to the Dir al-Balah area, for the first time since October. Leaflets in Arabic dropped from the air informed residents to leave what was described as a “dangerous combat zone” via designated safe routes to central Gaza.

The move was seen as an attempt to avoid civilian casualties but also to step up the pressure on Hamas as ceasefire talks reach a decisive stage.

Israeli forces have re-entered a number of Gaza city neighbourhoods in recent weeks in an attempt to thwart militant attempts to re-establish a military presence.

An estimated 250,000 residents are believed to reside in Gaza city and the United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “appalled” by the new IDF order, noting that Dir al-Balah is already seriously overcrowded with war refugees.

READ SOME MORE

Israel says it is investigating reports of civilian casualties in a Tuesday night missile strike outside a school near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis where residents had gathered to watch a Euro 2024 semi-final soccer match.

A woman and children look on while sitting with their belongings on a donkey-drawn cart as they try to return to their home in the Tuffah district east of Gaza City on July 8th. Photograph: Omar Al-Qattaa/AFP/Getty Images

The IDF said “precision weapons” were used in the strike, which it said targeted a Hamas militant who had participated in the October 7th attack on southern Israel.

Palestinian health officials reported that at least 29 people – mostly women and children – were killed in the attack.

Defence minister Yoav Gallant told the Knesset parliament Wednesday that the IDF has “killed or wounded 60 per cent of the Hamas terrorists” and dismantled 25 Hamas battalions or “the vast majority of them”.

Earlier this week an Israeli government spokesperson estimated that 14,000 militants have been killed during the war.

Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi described Israel’s order to Gaza City residents to evacuate as a “red line for Jordan and Egypt”, stressing that both countries will strongly oppose the displacement of Palestinians.

Ground troops have pushed into parts of Gaza City in recent days, triggering the flight of thousands of Palestinians trying to escape shelling and air strikes. Photograph: Leo Correa/AP

He also described Tuesday’s incident in Khan Younis as “another war crime committed by Israel,” accusing Israel of wanting “to eliminate Unrwa in order to eliminate the Palestinian issue in general and the refugee issue in particular.” Unrwa is a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 38,200 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7th. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on that day. Some 116 hostages remain in Gaza and Israel has confirmed the death of 42 of them.

A four-way summit was convened in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday in an effort to agree on a new Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal. CIA director William Burns was joined by Qatari prime minister Mohammed Al Thani, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and Mossad chief David Barnea.

Mr Gallant told visiting US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk that a solution to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza is crucial for “cutting off Hamas’s oxygen,” and – as part of a ceasefire deal – for allowing the withdrawal of Israeli forces from part of the Philadelphi route that runs along the Gaza-Egypt border.

As the talks in Doha got under way, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Mr McGurk that he remained committed to a ceasefire deal as long as Israel’s red lines were maintained.

On Israel’s northern border, Israeli fighter jets attacked Hizbullah targets deep inside Lebanese territory after an Israeli couple were killed in a rocket strike in the Golan Heights on Tuesday.

Minister Benny Gantz, who resigned from the emergency war coalition a few weeks ago, said “it is time to exact a price from military targets and infrastructure of Lebanon, of which Hizbullah is a part”.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem