Dozens of Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were reported massed close to Khan Younis as Israel warned residents of eastern neighbourhoods of the biggest city in southern Gaza to leave immediately for their own safety.
At the same time Israel continued pounding militant targets across Gaza on Monday in what was described as the fiercest bombardment to date in the 59-day war, as fighting took place in areas of northern Gaza where Hamas fighters are still holding out.
Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said the army would soon complete its operation in northern Gaza. “At the same time, the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] has begun to work in the south of the Gaza Strip. The fate of the terrorists in the Hamas battalions there will be the same as those in the north and worse. We will continue until victory and until all goals are achieved: the elimination of Hamas and the return of the hostages to Israel.”
As the fighting spread Israel issued new warnings to residents to flee from the areas of the heaviest fighting to what it said were safer zones, using a new map that divides the entire Gaza Strip into hundreds of blocs.
According to the United Nations, the number of displaced people in Gaza has risen rapidly – almost doubling in less than three weeks.
Human Rights Watch programme director Sari Bashi said Israel was asking people “who don’t have electricity or the internet to somehow scan a bar code to see where they’re supposed to go”, and telling people to flee “when there’s no safe place to go” and no safe way of getting there.
In addition, communications services in Gaza were down on Monday due to damage caused by Israeli strikes, affecting land lines, mobile phones and the internet.
In tandem with the effort to defeat Hamas militarily, the Israeli army is also systematically destroying symbols of Hamas civilian rule across Gaza. The coastal strip’s main courthouse was blown up on Monday. Hamas’s information ministry says Israel has destroyed 103 government buildings and damaged 270 schools and 183 mosques since the start of the war. Fifty-six clinics and 20 hospitals have also been taken out of service.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said on Monday that almost 16,000 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli operations since October 7th – 70 per cent of them women and children. More than 350 of the fatalities have occurred since a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas broke down on Friday.
Israel says 1,200 people were killed when 1,200 gunmen stormed across the Gaza border on October 7th, seizing more than 240 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza. A total of 110 hostages, Israeli and foreigners, were freed during the one-week ceasefire: 136 remain in captivity.
Turkey warned Israel on Monday of “serious consequences” if it tries to hunt down Hamas leaders on its territory. The warning came after Israel’s public broadcaster Kan played a recording by Ronen Bar, the head of the Israel security agency, Shin Bet, warning that Israel would settle accounts with Hamas leaders in exile in Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar even if it took years. He compared the Hamas attack on October 7th to the 1972 attack by Palestinian Black September gunmen at the Munich Olympics, in which 11 athletes were killed and Israel responded by assassinating those responsible over the following years.
Monday also saw an escalation on Israel’s northern border with exchanges of fire between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hizbullah militia in south Lebanon. Both sides appear reluctant to provoke an all-out war but the situation remains tense and the danger remains of a miscalculation from either side.
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