Home west asia Thousands Flee Their Homes As Israeli Forces Bomb Southern Gaza

Thousands Flee Their Homes As Israeli Forces Bomb Southern Gaza

Israeli forces, gaza, palestine
Palestinians, who fled the eastern part of Khan Younis after they were ordered by Israeli army to evacuate their neighborhoods, ride on a vehicle loaded with belongings, amid Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 2, 2024. REUTERS

Eight Palestinians were killed and dozens injured when Israeli forces bombarded several areas of Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Health officials said on Tuesday that thousands of people fled their homes under fire.

The Israeli Army had ordered residents of several towns and villages in eastern Khan Younis to evacuate their homes on Monday, prior to tanks re-entering the area.

Thousands who had not heeded the call were forced to flee their homes overnight, as Israeli tanks and planes bombed Karara, Abassan and other areas that had been named in the evacuation orders, residents and Hamas media said.

“Where will we go?” said Tamer, a 55-year-old businessman, who has been displaced half a dozen times times in the last 11 months.

“Every time people go back to their homes and begin to rebuild some of their lives even on the rubble of their houses, the occupation sends the tanks back to destroy what is left,” he told Reuters via a chat app.

The Israeli military said its forces had struck areas in Khan Younis from where around 20 rockets had been fired on Monday. Targets included weapon storage facilities and operational centres, it added.

It said measures were taken before the strikes to ensure civilians were unharmed by enabling them to evacuate from the area, referring to the evacuation orders. The military accused Hamas of using civilian infrastructure and the wider population as human shields. The Islamist group denies that.

Islamic Jihad, an allied group of Hamas, took credit for firing the rockets, which it said came in response to “the crimes of the Zionist enemy against our Palestinian people”.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas-led fighters burst into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages, including civilians and soldiers, back into Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive launched by Israel in retaliation has killed nearly 38,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has left the heavily built-up coastal enclave in ruins.

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The Gaza Health Ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, but officials say most of the dead are civilians. Israel says 317 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza and that at least a third of the Palestinian dead are fighters.

Within the areas subject to evacuation orders was the European Gaza Hospital, which serves both Khan Younis and Rafah, and medical officials had to evacuate patients and families who had taken shelter in the facility, witnesses and medics said.

Some residents headed west towards the Mawasi area by the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area but is overcrowded by displaced families. Some slept in the street as they could not find shelter.

Israel has signalled that its operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt, that was meant to stamp out Hamas in its final redoubt would soon be concluded.

After the intense phase of the war is over, its forces will focus on smaller-scale operations meant to stop Hamas from regrouping, officials say.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was nearing its goal of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007. Less intense operations would continue, he said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to stage attacks against Israeli forces operating inside Gaza and fire rockets from time to time into Israel in a show of defiance. Hamas says Netanyahu has failed to achieve the goals of the war and the group is ready to fight for years.

Arab mediators’ efforts to secure a United States backed ceasefire, have stalled. Hamas says any deal must end the war and bring a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting until Hamas is eradicated.