Thousands flee southern Gaza as Israel mounts new assault

At least eight people have been killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli bombardment in eastern Khan Younis.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes in southern Gaza as Israeli forces have bombarded several areas after issuing a new evacuation order for the embattled city of Khan Younis.

At least eight people were killed and more than 30 wounded in strikes on several neighbourhoods around Khan Younis on Tuesday, health authorities said.

The wave of attacks, just weeks after Israeli tanks left the area, caused panic among residents, many already displaced multiple times and with no clear path to safety.

The Israeli military’s newly declared evacuation zone in Khan Younis encompasses an area where 250,000 people live, said Sam Rose, planning director at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The order “means yet another day, week, chapter of misery for these hundreds of thousands of people – we expect 250,000 people in areas under the evacuation order,” Rose told Al Jazeera from Nuseirat in central Gaza.

Some people had just returned from Rafah, also in the south of the enclave, where they were displaced a few weeks ago.

“And now they just received this evacuation order instructing them to leave immediately. … It’s just harrowing, horrific and incredibly difficult to get your head around,” Rose said.

The order includes Gaza’s European Hospital, which serves both Khan Younis and Rafah.

Ali Abu Ismehan, a wounded Palestinian evacuated from the European Hospital after the Israel army ordered residents to leave neighborhoods in the eastern part of Khan Younis, is wheeled on a bed at Nasser hospital, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip
Ali Abu Ismehan, a wounded Palestinian evacuated from the European Hospital, is wheeled on a bed at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis on July 2, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The evacuation order shows Israel’s inability to achieve its goal of eliminating Hamas, said Luciano Zaccara, a professor of Gulf politics at Qatar University’s Gulf Studies Center.

“It also proves that Israel wants to win this war by exhausting the people,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to several previous such orders from different locations in the past nine months of war.

“In this way, it creates much more trouble and harm for Palestinians who cannot stay for more than one month or 15 days in one place,” he added.

Some residents fled west towards the al-Mawasi area by the coast, which Israel designated a humanitarian “safe zone” but has attacked. However, it is already overcrowded with displaced families.

The idea that there are safe places to move people to, Zaccara said, “is not true because every time there has been a displacement there were also attacks”.

There is no space in al-Mawasi to pitch a tent, there is no water, no infrastructure, no sanitary services, Rose said. Many people are forced to spend the night in vehicles or on their donkey carts.

Palestinians, who fled the eastern part of Khan Younis after they were ordered by Israeli army to evacuate their neighborhoods, carry their belongings, amid Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 2, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians fleeing Khan Younis carry their belongings on July 2, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Gaza said 1.9 million people – 80 percent of the territory’s population – were now displaced, adding she was “deeply concerned” by reports of new evacuation orders for southern Gaza.

“Over 1 million people have been displaced once again, desperately seeking shelter and safety, [and] 1.9 million people are now displaced across Gaza. … I’m deeply concerned about reports of new evacuation orders issued in the area of Khan Younis,” Sigrid Kaag told the UN Security Council.

“Palestinian civilians in Gaza have been plunged into an abyss of suffering. Their home lives shattered, their lives upended. The war has not merely created the most profound of humanitarian crises. It has unleashed a maelstrom of human misery,” Kaag added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman said Monday’s “orders for the evacuations of 117sq km [45sq miles] in Khan Younis and Rafah governorates apply to about a third of the Gaza Strip, making it the largest such order since October”.

“An evacuation of such a massive scale will only heighten the suffering of civilians,” said the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Reporting from Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud said “people have lost hope and the sense of being responsive to these evacuation orders”.

The orders, he said, feel more like a “death sentence for people” as they are “herded from one place to another and only end up being killed”.

‘Advancing to the end’

The intensive push into Khan Younis could prelude the end of Israel’s intensive military operations to rout Hamas from southern Gaza, including Rafah, which Israel’s army estimated it needs four weeks to complete, according to Israel’s Channel 12 broadcaster.

In the next phase of the war, the military plans to transition to less intense, smaller-scale strikes to keep Hamas at bay, its officials said.

“We are advancing to the end of the phase of eliminating the terrorist army of Hamas, and there will be a continuation to strike its remnants,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

On Tuesday, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said at least 37,925 people have been killed and 87,141 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies