New Delhi: Israel has issued a fresh warning to Palestinians in the southern city of Khan Younis to evacuate their homes and move closer to humanitarian aid, as it plans to launch a new attack on Hamas in south Gaza after raiding the north. Mark Regev, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while speaking to MSNBC on Friday said that that Israel wants to avoid civilian casualties and urged people to relocate. “We don’t want to see civilians caught up in the crossfire,” he said.
Such a move could force hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from the Israeli onslaught on Gaza City to move again, along with the residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, worsening a dire humanitarian crisis.
Israel has vowed to wipe out the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip after its Oct. 7 raid into Israel in which its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged 240 hostages into the enclave.
Since then, Israel has reduced much of Gaza City to rubble, ordered the evacuation of the entire northern half of the narrow strip and left homeless around two-thirds of the enclave’s 2.3 million Palestinians. Many of those who have fled fear they will never return to their homes.
Gaza health authorities raised their death toll on Friday to more than 12,000, 5,000 of them children. The United Nations considers those figures credible, though they are now updated infrequently due to the difficulty of collecting information.
Israel dropped leaflets over Khan Younis telling people to flee to shelters, indicating that military operations there were imminent.
About 26 Palestinians, mostly children, were killed in an Israeli bombardment of the city early on Saturday, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said.
Regev said Israeli troops will have to advance into the city to root out Hamas fighters from underground tunnels and bunkers but that no such “enormous infrastructure” exists in less populated areas to the west.
He said people in the area should move west, where they will find tents and a field hospital. “I’m pretty sure that they won’t have to move again,” he said. He added that the western areas are closer to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, where humanitarian aid could be brought in “as quickly as possible.”
With the war entering its seventh week, there was no sign of any let-up, despite international calls for a ceasefire or at least for humanitarian pauses.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida said in a video statement that the group is prepared for a long and sustained defence from all directions. “The more time the occupation’s forces stay in Gaza, the heavier their continuous losses,” he said.
Violence flared in the occupied West Bank, with at least five Palestinians killed and two injured in an Israeli 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.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Amid warnings that its Gaza siege would cause starvation and disease, Israel on Friday appeared to bow to international pressure, 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 Washington 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 remarks appeared to signal a shift in tone after U.N. agencies warned that humanitarian conditions in Gaza were rapidly deteriorating, including a stark warning from the World Food Programme of the “immediate possibility of starvation.”