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Leave Gaza City now, Israeli military warns Palestinians in evacuation order | CBC News



Leave Gaza City now, Israeli military warns Palestinians in evacuation order | CBC News

The Israeli military urged all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south Wednesday, pressing ahead with a fresh offensive across the north, south and centre of the embattled territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.

The stepped-up military activity came as U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators met with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks seeking a long-elusive ceasefire deal with Gaza’s Hamas militant group in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Israel says it is pursuing Hamas fighters that are regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the war. But heavy strikes in recent days along the length of the territory also could be aimed at putting more pressure on Hamas in the ceasefire talks.

In a visit Wednesday to central Gaza, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said forces were operating in different ways, in multiple parts of the territory “to carry out a very important mission: pressure. We will continue operating to bring home the hostages.”

Israel informed people in Gaza of the evacuation order by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al-Balah. Gaza City, it said, will “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

The United Nations says about 300,000 Palestinians have remained in the hard-hit north, with the bulk of those said to be in Gaza City.

The evacuation order came after a series of deadly strikes over the past two days in other parts of the territory. Israeli bombardment early Wednesday hit four houses in Deir al-Balah and the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, killing 20 Palestinians.

Among the dead were six children and three women, according to officials at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the casualties were taken. An Associated Press reporter counted the bodies. The house hit in Deir al-Balah was inside the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to flee for refuge.

A woman hugs  a man in a hospital  corridor
A Palestinian woman hugs her son wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in a hospital in Khan Younis on Tuesday. (Jehad Alshrafi/The Associated Press)

The overnight bombardment came hours after Israeli warplanes struck the entrance of a school sheltering displaced families outside the southern city of Khan Younis. The toll from the strike rose to 31 people killed, including eight children, and more than 50 wounded, officials at the nearby Nasser Hospital said Wednesday. 

Footage aired by Al Jazeera television showed kids playing soccer in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

The Israeli army said the airstrike near the school and reports of civilian casualties were under review. It claimed it was targeting a Hamas militant who took part in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, though it provided no immediate evidence.

The military blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, urban areas. 

Palestinians fear checkpoints

In nine months of bombardment and offensives in Gaza, Israel has killed more than 38,200 people and wounded more than 88,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. 

During the Oct. 7 raid, militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities. The militants took roughly 250 people hostage. About 120 are still in captivity, with about a third said to be dead.

Israel’s new ground assault in Gaza’s largest city has prompted what the UN called a “dangerously chaotic” exodus of people scattering in multiple directions, unsure where to go. Some have fled to other parts of the north.

The new Israeli military leaflets encouraged a mass movement south to the purported “humanitarian zone,” promising that people leaving Gaza City on the defined routes would not be stopped at Israeli checkpoints. Many Palestinians fear arrest or humiliation by troops at the checkpoints.

WATCH | Nowhere to go: 

Fleeing on foot, these Palestinians have no idea where they will go

Umm Ali, one of the people who was on the move over the weekend, said leaflets were dropped in parts of Gaza City on Sunday morning, asking people to leave the area immediately. She — and many others — fled, but she had no sense of where she could go to find safety.

Aid pier being pulled out permanently

Meanwhile, the pier built by the U.S. military to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza will be reinstalled Wednesday to be used for several days, but then the plan is to pull it out permanently, several U.S. officials said. It would deal the final blow to a project long plagued by bad weather, security uncertainties and difficulties getting food into the hands of starving Palestinians.

The officials said the goal is to clear whatever aid has piled up in Cyprus and on the floating dock offshore and get it to the secure area on the beach in Gaza. Once that has been done, the army will dismantle the pier and depart. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because final details are still being worked out.

Officials had hoped the pier would provide a critical flow of aid to starving residents in Gaza as the nine-month-long war drags on. But while more than 8.6 million kilograms of food has gotten into Gaza via the pier, the project has been hampered by persistent heavy seas and stalled deliveries due to ongoing security threats as Israeli troops continue their offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

The decision to pull out the pier comes as Israeli troops make another push deeper into Gaza City, which Hamas says could threaten long-running negotiations over a ceasefire and hostage release, after the two sides appeared to have narrowed the gaps in recent days.

UN suspended deliveries in June

U.S. troops removed the pier on June 28 because of bad weather and moved it to the port of Ashdod in Israel. But distribution of the aid had already stopped due to the security concerns.

The United Nations suspended deliveries from the pier on June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around it for airlifts after a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians. U.S. and Israeli officials said no part of the pier itself was used in the raid, but UN officials said any perception in Gaza that the project was used may endanger their aid work.

As a result, aid brought through the pier into the secure area on the beach piled up for days while talks continued between the UN and Israel. More recently, the World Food Program hired a contractor to move the aid from the beach to prevent the food and other supplies from spoiling.

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