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Israel says its military ground operations now cover every part of Gaza

Israel’s military ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to be evacuated on Sunday, as it shifted its offensive to the southern half of the territory where it says many Hamas leaders are hiding (Leo Correa/AP)
Israel’s military ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to be evacuated on Sunday, as it shifted its offensive to the southern half of the territory where it says many Hamas leaders are hiding (Leo Correa/AP)

The Israeli military said on Sunday that it had expanded its ground operations to every part of Gaza and ordered more evacuations in the crowded south, followed by heavy bombardment, as it vowed that operations there against Hamas would be “no less strength” than its earlier offensive in the north.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off territory that borders Israel and Egypt.

Many of the territory’s 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after Israeli forces ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the two-month-old war.

Israel Palestinians
An Israeli army flare is seen over the Gaza Strip (Leo Correa/AP)

A Health Ministry spokesman asserted that hundreds had been killed or wounded since the truce ended on Friday.

“The majority of victims are still under the rubble,” Ashraf al-Qidra said.

Fears of a wider conflict have also intensified after a US warship and multiple commercial ships came under attack in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed attacks on two ships they described as being linked to Israel but did not acknowledge targeting a US vessel.

With the resumption of fighting, hopes receded that another temporary truce could be negotiated. A week-long ceasefire, which expired on Friday, had facilitated the release of dozens of Gaza-held Israeli and foreign hostages and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians look for survivors of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address on Saturday night: “We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals, and it’s impossible to achieve those goals without the ground operation.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the US is working “really hard” for a resumption of negotiations.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said resuming talks with Israel on further exchanges must be tied to a permanent ceasefire.

On Sunday, the Israeli military widened evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis, asking residents of at least five more areas and neighbourhoods to leave for their safety.

Residents said the Israeli military dropped leaflets ordering residents to move south to Rafah or to a coastal area in the southwest.

“Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone,” the leaflets read.

UN monitors said, in a report issued before the latest evacuation orders, that the area’s residents who were told to leave make up about one-quarter of the territory of Gaza. The report said these areas were home to nearly 800,000 people before the war.

Ahead of a resumption of fighting, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, had warned Israel to avoid significant new mass displacement.

The Israeli military said on Sunday that its fighter jets and helicopters “struck terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnel shafts, command centres and weapons storage facilities” overnight, while a drone killed five Hamas fighters.

Israel Palestinians
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip (Leo Correa/AP)

In northern Gaza on Sunday, rescue teams with little equipment scrambled to dig through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp and other neighbourhoods in Gaza City in the search for potential survivors and bodies.

“They strike everywhere,” said Amal Radwan, a woman sheltering in Jabaliya, an urban refugee camp. “There is the non-stop sound of explosions around us.”

Mohamed Abu Abed, who lives in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City, said there had been relentless air strikes and artillery shelling.

“Death is everywhere. One can die in a flash,” he said.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Saturday that the overall death toll in the strip since the October 7 start of the war had passed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on November 20.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It added that more than 40,000 people have been wounded since the war began.

COP28 Climate Summit
US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians have been killed (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

US appeals to protect civilians came after an offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza. Much of Gaza’s population is packed into the territory’s southern half. The territory itself, bordering Israel and Egypt to the south, is sealed, leaving residents with only the option of moving around within Gaza to avoid the bombings.

US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday during the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai: “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Mr Netanyahu, said Israel is making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and the military has used leaflets, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas.

He added that Israel is considering creating a security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access to the border fence on foot.

Israel has said it is targeting Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighbourhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

Israel said at least 78 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

Israel Palestinians
Rockets are fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip (Leo Correa/AP)

Bombardments on Saturday destroyed a block of about 50 residential buildings in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City and a six-storey building in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the northern edge of the city, said the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More than 60 people were killed in the Shijaiyah strikes and more than 300 were buried under the rubble, the monitors said, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defence, said rescuers lack bulldozers and other equipment to reach those buried under the rubble, confirming the Red Crescent estimate of about 300 people missing. He said the block had housed more than 1,000 people.

“Retrieving the martyrs is extremely difficult,” he said in video comments from the site of the attack.

Meanwhile, Ms Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a meeting that “under no circumstances” will the US permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of Gaza or the redrawing of its borders, according to a US summary.

The war was sparked by an attack on southern Israel on October 7 by Hamas and other militants that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Around 240 people were taken captive.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 137 hostages, who the Israeli military says are still being held after 105 were freed during the recent truce.

Israel freed 240 Palestinians during the truce. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians flee from east to west of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, during the ongoing Israeli bombardment (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Elsewhere in the region, Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said it struck Israeli positions near the tense Lebanon-Israel border.

Eight soldiers and three civilians were wounded by Hezbollah fire in the area of Beit Hillel, army radio reported.

The military said its artillery struck sources of fire from Lebanon and its fighter jets struck other Hezbollah targets.

Iraqi militants with the Iran-backed umbrella group the Islamic Resistance in Iraq said they struck the Kharab al-Jir US military base in Syria with rockets.

A US military official said rockets hit Rumalyn Landing Zone in Syria but there were no reports of casualties or damage.

Later Sunday, officials with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq said five militia members were killed in an airstrike blamed on the US near Kirkuk.

A US official said the US had carried out a “self-defence strike” near Kirkuk targeting a drone staging site.