Israel is planning military operations in southern Gaza and has asked residents of some neighbourhoods to evacuate their homes, according to leaflets dropped into the city of Khan Younis that signalled a potential widening of Israel’s invasion.
Israel has mainly focused operations in northern Gaza during its war against Hamas, while also carrying out air strikes south of the Wadi Gaza rivulet, an area to which it has demanded the movement of more than a million Palestinian civilians.
The Israel Defense Forces did not respond to questions about the thousands of leaflets that were dropped, telling residents of four specific neighbourhoods to leave their houses immediately.
“For your safety you have to evacuate your places of residence and head to the known shelters,” said a copy of the leaflet posted on social media. “Whoever is present near terrorists or their installations will be exposing their life to danger.”
The neighbourhoods mentioned are in eastern Khan Younis — south of the evacuation line imposed by Israel — and were home to at least 100,000 residents before the war. Those numbers have swollen as many Gazans fled south to escape the fighting in the north, also under Israel’s orders.
Israel now believes that several Hamas leaders have fled south, with
some in Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, according to
several western officials.
Some of Israel’s allies have asked it to be cautious in its operations in the south, where nearly a million Palestinians have fled after being assured that it would be safer than the north, said one western official.
“Now first of all, we are seeing strikes in the south,” the official
said. “And second . . . operations in Khan Younis can be incredibly
difficult [and] destructive.”
The scale and intensity of Israel’s growing ground invasion has caused
concerns, the official said, despite consistent support for Israel’s
right to defend itself. “I don’t think anybody meant that this
requires ground operations of such a scope,” the official said.
However, US President Joe Biden signalled on Wednesday night that the US had not given Israel a timeframe to conclude its campaign against Hamas, despite mounting pressure from international allies, officials in his administration and members of the Democratic party to press Israel to rein in its operation.
Biden said Israel’s war against the Islamist militant group would end “when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder, abuse and just do horrific things” to Israel.
“How long it’s going to last, I don’t know,” Biden said after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping outside San Francisco.
Hours after the Israeli military raided al-Shifa hospital, the largest healthcare facility in the Gaza Strip, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses “for a sufficient number of days” to allow aid to enter the besieged enclave. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vehemently opposed proposals for a pause in fighting.
The US, UK and Russia abstained after Moscow tried to change the language to a ceasefire. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s envoy to the UN, said on social media that the security council resolution was “disconnected from reality and is meaningless”. “Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned.”
Israel declared war against Hamas after the group launched a surprise attack from Gaza on October 7 that killed 1,200 people across southern Israel, according to Israeli officials. It has vowed to oust the armed group from the Palestinian territory.
The assault on Gaza has killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, and hospitals have gradually ceased operating as Israeli forces have advanced deeper into the coastal enclave and restricted shipments of fuel, water and food. Health officials have not been able to update death tolls since the weekend, and say that at least 3,000 people are still buried under the rubble.
Israel’s military entered al-Shifa earlier in what it called a “targeted” operation to find Hamas weapons and infrastructure. The raid was continuing on Thursday, according to two Palestinians, who said Israeli forces were still surrounding the hospital and preventing people from leaving.
Doctors and patients sheltered on higher floors while soldiers inspected the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) department, detained several Palestinians and took several away for further questioning, some with visible bruises and wounds, said two people at the hospital.
The IDF said late on Thursday that it had retrieved the remains of a hostage, Yehudit Weiss, from a “structure adjacent to the Shifa Hospital,” and found military equipment including rocket-propelled grenades at the site.
In a video released by the IDF, the army displayed roughly a dozen AK-47 rifles, a handful of grenades and radios, and a laptop displaying a picture of a hostage as evidence of the hospital being a major command and control headquarters of Hamas. It also showed a spindle of CD-ROMs that it said would be analysed — such discs are commonly used to transfer the results of MRIs at al-Shifa.
More raids are expected to investigate the rest of the hospital. Israel contends that the hospital sits on top of an underground tunnel network housing Hamas command centres. Hamas has denied the claims, describing them as an Israeli excuse to take over the hospital.
“One thing has been established . . . Hamas does have headquarters, weapons, materiel below this hospital and I suspect others,” Biden said, referring to al-Shifa.
Biden drew a distinction between Hamas, which he said had vowed to attack Israel “again and again”, and the IDF, which he said was acting with deliberation.
“The IDF . . . acknowledges they have an obligation to use as much caution as they can in going after their targets,” Biden said.
The US president also indicated that there was progress in talks among Qatar, Hamas, Israel and others to release some of the hostages held by Hamas, which according to Israel number more than 200.
Biden suggested that Israel had already agreed to a pause in the fighting as part of that effort but backtracked and said he was “getting into too much detail”.
“I am mildly hopeful,” Biden said.
While Israel has agreed to pauses of several hours each day, Washington is pressing to extend them to a few days in order to allow more humanitarian assistance to enter the besieged strip and hostages to leave.