Israel orders evacuation in parts of southern Gaza amid fears of escalation

Residents in eastern Khan Younis have received leaflets telling them to flee as UN rights chief warns there is no safe place in Gaza.

Palestinians stand next to a mosque destroyed in an Israeli air strike
Palestinians stand at the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2023 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Israeli forces have dropped leaflets on some areas of Khan Younis ordering residents to evacuate amid fears that Israel could intensify its assault on southern Gaza.

Residents in Khuzaa, Abassan, Bani Suhaila and Al Qarara in eastern Khan Younis, the biggest city in southern Gaza, said Israeli aircraft dropped thousands of leaflets overnight and early on Thursday, warning them to leave.

The towns, collectively home to more than 100,000 people in peacetime, are now sheltering tens of thousands more who have fled other areas after Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza to evacuate to the south.

“For your safety, you need to evacuate your places of residence immediately and head to known shelters,” the leaflets said. “Anyone near terrorists or their facilities puts their life at risk, and every house used by terrorists will be targeted.”

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the leaflets.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the besieged territory of 2.3 million people have fled south as Israel intensified its ground invasion in northern Gaza.

It was not clear where residents in eastern Khan Younis were expected to flee as Israel continues its bombardment in areas in the south where Palestinians were previously ordered to relocate for their safety.

“We have been absolutely clear that at the current moment, we do not consider any part of Gaza to be safe,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said on Thursday.

As Israeli forces continue their ground assault in the northern part of Gaza, aid organisations have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the densely packed south as Israel’s bombardment and siege severely restricts supplies of food, water, fuel and electricity.

Turk said the conditions make outbreaks of infectious disease and extreme hunger nearly inevitable.

Many of those who have been displaced by the fighting – about 70 percent of Gaza’s population, according to the UN – worry that they will not be allowed to return home.

Israel has said that it is working to eliminate the armed Palestinian group Hamas, which launched deadly attacks on southern Israel on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 captive, according to Israeli authorities,

Israel has responded with an assault on Gaza that has killed at least 11,470 people, more than one third of them children, according to Palestinian authorities.

The dropping of the leaflets on Khan Younis came as Israeli forces raided the al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza.

The situation at the hospital has raised alarm around the world with hundreds of patients and thousands of displaced civilians trapped inside without fuel, oxygen or basic supplies.

Medics said dozens of patients had died in recent says as a result of Israel’s siege, including three newborns in incubators that lost power.

Israel has said the hospital sits atop a large Hamas command centre, but it has yet to share evidence to validate its assertion after conducting raids inside the hospital that were met with alarm from medical organisations and political leaders.

On Thursday, the human rights group Human Rights Watch said Israel has yet to provide sufficient evidence to justify revoking the hospital’s protected status under the international laws of war.

“Hospitals only lose those protections if it can be shown that harmful acts have been carried out from the premises,” Human Rights Watch UN Director Louis Charbonneau told the Reuters news agency.

“The Israeli government hasn’t provided any evidence of that.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies