About 1.8 million people, or roughly 75 per cent of Gaza’s population, are internally displaced, in the wake of Israeli bombing, the United Nations humanitarian agency (OCHA) has said.
The estimate, reported by AFP, comes as Israel continued with its intense bombing campaign across the north and south of Gaza for a third day since the end of the truce with Hamas, killing hundreds of Palestinians in a 24-hour period, according to local officials.
On Sunday night, the Israeli military also said it has expanded its ground operation to all of Gaza. “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] continues to extend its ground operation against Hamas centres in all of the Gaza Strip,” spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters in Tel Aviv. “The forces are coming face-to-face with terrorists and killing them.”
Earlier the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north was hit, with initial reports saying tens of people were killed and at least one residential block destroyed. Video footage showed people searching for bodies under the rubble.
About 300 people were reported to be sheltering in the vicinity of the latest strike, in a camp area that has been targeted repeatedly by Israel over the past month. It was not possible to verify exact casualty numbers.
Heavy bombing was also reported in the southern city of Khan Younis, increasingly the focus of Israeli attacks, while its military demanded further evacuation of civilians from areas of the city, telling them to head south to Rafah or to the west. On Sunday night there were reports of clashes between Hamas and Israeli troops a mile from the city.
Many of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israeli forces ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the two-month-old war.
With the resumption of fighting, hopes receded that another temporary truce could be negotiated. A weeklong ceasefire, which expired on Friday, had facilitated the release of dozens of Gaza-held Israeli and foreign hostages and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in an address on Saturday night: “We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals, and it’s impossible to achieve those goals without the ground operation.”
On Sunday, the Israeli military 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 military dropped leaflets ordering residents to move south to Rafah or to a coastal area in the southwest. “Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone,” the leaflets read.
UN monitors said in a report issued before the latest evacuation orders that the areas whose residents were told to leave make up about a quarter of the territory of Gaza. The report said these areas were home to nearly 800,000 people before the war.
Before the resumption of fighting, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, had warned Israel to avoid significant new mass displacement.
The Israeli military said on Sunday that its fighter jets and helicopters “struck terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnel shafts, command centres and weapons storage facilities” overnight, while a drone killed five Hamas fighters.
In northern Gaza on Sunday, rescue teams with little equipment scrambled to dig through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other neighbourhoods in Gaza City in the search for potential survivors and 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 of Gaza City, said there have been relentless air strikes and artillery shelling.
“Death is everywhere. One can die in a flash,” he said.
The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Saturday that the overall death toll in the strip since the October 7th start of the war had passed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on November 20th.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but it said 70 per cent of the dead were women and children. It added that more than 40,000 people have been wounded since the war began.
US 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. The territory itself, bordering Israel and Egypt to the south, is sealed, leaving residents with only the option of moving around within Gaza to avoid the bombings.
US vice-president Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday during the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai: “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”
Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Mr Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and the military had used leaflets, phone calls and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas.
He added that Israel was considering creating a security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access to the border fence on foot.
Israel has said it is targeting Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighbourhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
Israel said at least 78 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.
Bombardments on Saturday destroyed a block of about 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City and a six-storey building in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the northern edge of the city, said the UN OCHA.
More than 60 people were killed in the Shijaiyah strikes and more than 300 buried under the rubble, the monitors said, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s civil defence, said rescuers lacked 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 more than 1,000 people.
“Retrieving the martyrs is extremely difficult,” he said in video comments from the site of the attack.
Meanwhile, Ms Harris told Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that “under no circumstances” would the US 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 US summary.
The war was sparked by an attack on southern Israel on October 7th by Hamas and other militants that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. About 240 people were taken captive.
The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 137 hostages, who the Israeli military says are still being held after 105 were freed during the recent truce.
Israel freed 240 Palestinians during the truce. Most of those released by both sides were women and children. – AP/Guardian