Israel shifts focus of bombardment to southern Gaza, widening evacuation orders

AP , Ahram Online , Sunday 3 Dec 2023

Israel's occupation military on Sunday ordered more areas in and around Gaza's second-largest city of Khan Younis to evacuate, as it shifted its brutal attacks to the southern half of the besieged Palestinian territory.

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. AP


Heavy bombardments were reported overnight and into Sunday in the area of Khan Younis and the southern city of Rafah, as well as parts of the north that had been the focus of Israel's blistering air and ground incrusion.

Many of the territory’s 2.3 million people are crammed in the south after Israel forced civilians to leave the north in the early days of the 2-month-old war.

​On Sunday, the Israeli army widened evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis, asking residents of at least five more areas and neighbourhoods to leave for their safety.

Residents said the Israeli occupation army dropped leaflets ordering them to move south to Rafah or a coastal area in the southwest. “Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone,” the leaflets read.

The main hospital in Khan Younis received at least three dead and dozens wounded Sunday morning from an Israeli strike that hit a residential building in the eastern part of the city, according to an Associated Press journalist at the hospital.

Separately, the bodies of 31 people who were killed in Israeli bombardment across the central areas of the strip were taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza’s central city of Deir al-Balah, said Omar al-Darawi, an administrative employee at that hospital.

Bodies in white body bags were seen on the ground outside the hospital in Deri al-Balah as dozens of people held funeral prayers Sunday morning. The bodies were then taken on a truck for burial.

One woman wept, cradling the body of a child on her lap as she sat on a chair. Another adult carried the body of a baby as he got into a truck.

The Israeli army has published online a map dividing the Gaza Strip into hundreds of small areas, compelling residents to evacuate forcibly, including about 25% of the sector.

One of the designated evacuation areas includes several towns in eastern Khan Yunis (Al-Qarara, Khuza'a, Abasan, and Bani Suhaila). Orders were issued for their residents to move south to Rafah. These areas represent nearly 13 square kilometers or only 19 percent of the Gaza Strip's area (69 square kilometers) and were home to approximately 350,000 people before the war.

The Israeli army also warned residents of the eastern parts of Gaza City (Shejaiya, Al-Zeitoun, the Old City) and Jabalia, both in the northern sector, to evacuate. The specified areas cover about 6 percent of the Gaza Strip and are home to approximately 415,000 people.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has warned Tel Aviv to avoid significant new mass displacement.

U.S. appeals to protect civilians came after an offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza. Much of Gaza’s population is packed into the territory’s southern half. 

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

Meanwhile, Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that “under no circumstances” would the U.S. permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of Gaza or the redrawing of its borders, according to a U.S. summary.

However, Israel's army also threatened to attack the Al-Shujaiya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza with “huge firepower." 

“This is a final notice. You are all targets,” The Israeli army spokesman said on X, attaching a picture of Hamas commanders of what he named as the Shujaiya battalion.

On Saturday, the Israeli army bombed more than 50 residential buildings and homes in the Shujaiya neighbourhood, in addition to other areas in the Gaza Strip, killing at least 700 during the past 24 hours, according to the Gaza Information Office.

In northern Gaza, rescue teams with little equipment scrambled Sunday to dig through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other neighbourhoods in Gaza City in search of potential survivors and dead bodies.

“They strike everywhere,” said Amal Radwan, a woman sheltering in Jabaliya, an urban refugee camp. “There is the non-stop sound of explosions around us.”

Mohamed Abu Abed, who lives in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in Gaza City, also said there were relentless airstrikes and shelling in his neighbourhood and surrounding areas.

“The situation here is imaginable,” he said. “Death is everywhere. One can die in a flash.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Saturday that the overall death toll of the Israeli killings in the strip since the Oct. 7 start of the war had surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20. 70% of the dead were women and children. More than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.

Bombardments on Saturday destroyed a block of about 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City and a six-story building in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the northern edge of the city said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza's Civil Defense, said rescuers lack bulldozers and other equipment to reach those buried under the rubble, confirming the Red Crescent estimate of about 300 people missing. He said the block had housed over 1,000 people.

“Retrieving the martyrs is extremely difficult,” he said in video comments from the site of the attack.

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