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Israeli Army Orders Evacuation

On Wednesday, the Israeli army dropped hundreds of leaflets over Gaza City, the epicentre of the beleaguered Palestinian enclave, advising all people to evacuate in anticipation of a fierce onslaught through the city.

With a pre-war population of over 500,000, the leaflets addressed to “everyone in Gaza City” listed authorised escape routes and cautioned that the city would “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

The warning was given as Israeli forces, supported by tanks and aircraft, engaged in the fiercest fighting the city has seen in months against Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the conflict that began on October 7.

The United Nations said the latest evacuations “will only fuel mass suffering for Palestinian families, many of whom have been displaced many times”.

“The civilians must be protected,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

An Israeli government spokesman said the aim was “to put civilians out of harm’s way” as troops battle militants “where they are”.

One woman carrying her scant belongings through the ruins, Umm Nimr al-Jamal, told AFP on Tuesday that “this is the 12th time” her family has had to flee.

“How many times can we endure this? A thousand times? Where will we end up?”

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement came as talks were to resume in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal in the war now grinding on into its 10th month.

Hamas official Hossam Badran, asked about the increased military operations, told AFP that Israel was “hoping that the resistance will relinquish its legitimate demands” in truce negotiations.

But “the continuation of massacres compels us to adhere to our demands”, he said.

Heavy fighting also raged in Gaza’s far-southern Rafah, where witnesses told AFP that Israeli tanks had rumbled into the city centre and unleashed intense fire on buildings.

  • ‘Unacceptable’ –
    Across Gaza, deadly strikes have hit four schools used as shelters in four days, killing at least 49 people according to medics and officials in the Hamas-run territory, and sparking rebukes from France and Germany which both labelled the attacks “unacceptable”.

“We call for these strikes to be fully investigated,” said the French foreign ministry, highlighting a deadly strike on Tuesday on a school near the southern city of Khan Yunis.

“It is unacceptable that schools, especially those housing civilians displaced by the fighting, should be targeted.”

Israel said the strikes had targeted militants hiding in schools.

In Gaza City’s eastern district of Shujaiya, where major battles raged since an Israeli evacuation order on June 27, a spokesman for the civil defence agency said there was widespread “destruction”.

Shujaiya has become a “ghost city”, said Mahmud Bassal.

Bassal as well as witnesses said Israeli troops have withdrawn from the area, though the military told AFP its forces were “still operating” there.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by spy chief David Barnea arrived in Doha for truce talks, said a source with knowledge of the sensitive negotiations.

CIA director William Burns was also expected in the Qatari capital after holding talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile met US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.

Netanyahu “emphasized his commitment” to a proposed truce plan, “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved”, his office said.

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