This picture taken from a position along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel shows flares launched by Israeli forces above the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles with the militant group Hamas, on Nov. 17, 2023.
Kenzo Tribouillard | Afp | Getty Images
Israeli air strikes on residential blocks in south Gaza killed at least 32 Palestinians on Saturday, medics said, after Israel again warned civilians to relocate as it turns to attacking Hamas in the enclave’s south after subduing the north.
Such a move could compel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from the Israeli assault on Gaza City to move again, along with residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, worsening a dire humanitarian crisis.
“We’re asking people to relocate. I know it’s not easy for many of them, but we don’t want to see civilians caught up in the crossfire,” Mark Regev, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told MSNBC on Friday.
Israel vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip after its Oct. 7 rampage into Israel in which its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged 240 hostages into the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza City – the enclave’s urban core – to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the northern half of the narrow strip and displaced around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians. Many of those who have fled fear their homelessness could become permanent.
Gaza health authorities raised their death toll on Friday to more than 12,000, 5,000 of them children. The United Nations deems those figures credible, though they are now updated infrequently due to the difficulty of collecting information.
Overnight on Saturday, 26 Palestinians were killed and 23 injured by an air strike on two apartments in a multi-storey block in a busy residential district of Khan Younis, according to health officials.
A few km (miles) to the north, six Palestinians were killed when a house was bombed from the air in Deir Al-Balah, according to health authorities.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, which says Hamas militants use residential buildings and districts in densely populated Gaza as cover for operations posts and weaponry, something the Islamist movement denies.
Israel dropped leaflets over Khan Younis telling residents to evacuate to shelters, suggesting military operations there were imminent.
Regev said Israeli troops would have to advance into the city to oust Hamas fighters from underground tunnels and bunkers but that no such “enormous infrastructure” exists in less built-up areas to the west, nearer the Mediterranean coast.
“I’m pretty sure that they won’t have to move again” if they move west, he said, referring to people in the area. “We’re asking them to move to an area where hopefully there will be tents and a field hospital.”
Regev said that since western areas were closer to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, humanitarian aid could be brought in “as quickly as possible”.
With the war entering its seventh week, there was no sign of a let-up, despite international calls for a ceasefire or at least for humanitarian pauses.
“We have prepared ourselves for a long and sustained defence from all directions. The more time the occupation’s forces stay in Gaza, the heavier their continuous losses,” Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida said in a video statement.
Amid warnings that its Gaza siege raised the immediate risk of starvation, Israel on Friday appeared to bow to international pressure in agreeing to allow fuel trucks in and promising “no limitation” on aid requested by the United Nations.
Israel said it would allow two truckloads of fuel a day at the request of main ally the United States to help the U.N. meet basic needs, and spoke of plans to increase aid more broadly.
“We will increase the capacity of the humanitarian convoys and trucks as long as there is a need,” Colonel Elad Goren from COGAT, the ministry of defence agency that coordinates administrative issues with the Palestinians, told a briefing.
The White House said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the fuel deliveries should “continue on a regular basis and in larger quantities.”
At Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa in Gaza City, Israel said its forces had found a vehicle with a large number of weapons and what it called a Hamas tunnel shaft.
Al Shifa has been a primary target of Israel’s ground assault and a focus of international alarm over the deepening humanitarian crisis.
The army released a video it said showed a tunnel entrance in an outdoor area of the hospital. It appeared the area had been excavated. A bulldozer appeared in the background.
Israel has long maintained that the hospital sits above a vast underground bunker housing a Hamas command headquarters. Hospital staff say this is false and that Israel’s findings there have so far established no such thing.
Hamas denies using hospitals for military purposes.
Al Shifa staff said a premature baby died at the hospital on Friday, the first baby to die there in the two days since Israeli forces entered. Three had died in the previous days while the hospital was surrounded.
Hamas also announced the death of a captive from Israel, an 85-year-old it said died of a panic attack during an air strike.
Violence also flared anew in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with at least five Palestinians killed and two injured in an Israeli air strike on a building in the Balata refugee camp in the central city of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said early on Saturday.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it struck “a number of terrorists … and prevented terror attacks against Israeli civilians”.
At least 186 West Bank Palestinians, including 51 children, have been killed by Israeli forces since the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the Gaza war, according to U.N. figures. Another eight have been killed by Israeli settlers, while four Israelis have been killed by Palestinians, according to the figures.