Palestinians look at destruction after Israeli strikes on Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. AP
Broadening the offensive to the south — where Israel already carries out daily air raids — threatens to worsen an already severe humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory. Over 1.5 million people have been internally displaced in Gaza, with most having fled to the south, where food, water and electricity are increasingly scarce.
The leaflets dropped in areas east of the southern town of Khan Younis, warned civilians to evacuate the area and said anyone in the vicinity of militants or their positions “is putting his life in danger.” Similar leaflets were dropped over northern Gaza for weeks ahead of the ground invasion.
Two local reporters who live east of Khan Younis confirmed seeing the leaflets. Others shared images of the leaflets on social media. The Israeli military declined to comment.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday the ground operation will eventually “include both the north and south. We will strike Hamas wherever it is.”
The military says it has largely consolidated its control of the north, including seizing and demolishing government buildings. Video released by the army Thursday showed soldiers moving between heavily damaged buildings through holes blown in their walls.
On Thursday, the military said it had blown up a residence belonging to Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader based abroad. It was unclear if anyone was inside the building.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have already crowded into the territory’s south, where a worsening fuel shortage threatens to paralyze the delivery of humanitarian services and shut down mobile phone and internet service.
Conditions in southern Gaza have been deteriorating as bombardment continues to level buildings. Residents say bread is scarce and supermarket shelves are bare. Families cook on wood fires for lack of fuel. Central electricity and running water have been out for weeks across Gaza.
Israel allowed a small amount of fuel to enter Gaza on Wednesday, for the first time since the war began, so that the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, which is providing basic services to hundreds of thousands of people, could continue bringing limited supplies of aid through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
The fuel cannot be used for hospitals or to desalinate water, and covers less than 10% of what the agency needs to sustain "lifesaving activities,” said Thomas White, the agency’s Gaza director.
The Palestinian telecom company Paltel, meanwhile, said it expected services to halt later Wednesday because of the lack of fuel or electricity. Gaza has experienced three previous mass communication outages since the ground invasion.
If Israeli troops move south, it is not clear where Gaza’s population can flee, as Egypt and Jordan rejected the Israeli policy of displacement or attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause at the expense of neighbouring countries.