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Israel intensifies southern Gaza offensive; U.S., UN urge civilian protections

Israel intensifies southern Gaza offensive; U.S., UN urge civilian protections
An Israeli soldier stands on a military hummer near the border with the Gaza Strip on 4 December 2023 in Southern Border, Israel. Israel steps up military operations in Gaza after a sustained truce between Hamas and Israel did not hold further than a week despite diplomatic talks and captives released. (Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images)

GAZA, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Israeli forces pressed ahead with their air and ground bombardment of southern Gaza Strip, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, even as the United States and the United Nations repeatedly urged them to protect civilians.

  • “For people ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric
  • Islamic Jihad’s armed wing says its fighters engaged in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers north and east of Khan Younis

By Arafat Barbakh and Mohammed Salem

Israel’s closest ally the United States has said the Israeli offensive in the south should not repeat the “massive” civilian toll it has had in the north.

But residents and journalists on the ground said the intense Israeli air strikes in the south of the densely populated coastal enclave included areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Israel to avoid further action that would make the already dire humanitarian situation in Hamas-run Gaza worse, and to spare civilians from more suffering.

“The Secretary-General is extremely alarmed by the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas… For people ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Israel largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday they have swiftly pushed deep into the southern half.

Hamas ally Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said its fighters engaged in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers north and east of Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city.

Israeli tanks have driven into Gaza across the border and cut off the main north-south route, residents said. The Israeli military said the central road out of Khan Younis to the north “constitutes a battlefield” and was now shut.

Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), said the resumption of Israel’s military operation was repeating “horrors from past weeks” by displacing people who had been previously displaced, overcrowding hospitals and further strangling the humanitarian operation due to limited supplies.

“The evacuation order pushes people to concentrate into what is less than one-third of the Gaza Strip. They need everything: food, water, shelter, and mostly safety. Roads to the south are clogged,” Lazzarini said.

 

‘NO PLACE SAFE’

As many as 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have already fled their homes in the eight weeks of war that has turned the enclave into a wasteland.

On Monday, Israel ordered Palestinians to leave parts of Khan Younis, indicating they should move towards the Mediterranean coast and towards Rafah, a major town near the Egyptian border.

Desperate Gazans in Khan Younis packed their belongings and headed towards Rafah. Most were on foot, walking past ruined buildings in a solemn and silent procession.

Lazzarini said the order to evacuate to safer places did not ensure protections for civilians.

“We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza, whether in the south, or the southwest, whether in Rafah or in any unilaterally so-called ‘safe zone’,” he said.

In Washington, officials said it was too early to definitively say whether Israel was following U.S. advice to take concrete steps to ensure protections for civilians, although a State Department spokesperson said it was an “improvement” that Israel was seeking evacuations in targeted areas as opposed to entire cities.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington expected Israel to avoid attacking areas identified as “no-strike” zones in Gaza.

He said the U.S. had discussed with Israel how long the war with Hamas should continue, but he declined to share that timeline.

A senior Israeli official said it was taking the time to order more precise evacuations in order to limit civilian casualties, but that Israel could not rule them out altogether.

“We did not start this war. We regret civilian casualties but when you want to face evil, you have to operate,” the official said.

Israel launched its assault to wipe out Hamas in retaliation for an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen on border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival. The militants killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies – the deadliest single day in Israel’s 75-year history.

Over 100 of the hostages were freed during a seven-day truce last month. Israeli authorities say seven civilians and an army colonel died in captivity, while 137 hostages remain in Gaza.

In the eight weeks of warfare, the Gazan health ministry said at least 15,899 Palestinians, 70% of them women or under 18s, have been killed. They say thousands more are missing and feared buried in rubble, with about 900 killed since the truce ended on Friday.

Israel accuses Hamas of putting civilians in danger by operating from civilian areas, including in tunnels which can only be destroyed by large bombs. Hamas denies it does so.

(Reporting by Mohammed Salem in Gaza, Maayan Lubell, Ari Rabinovich and Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Maggie Fick in Beirut, and Andrew Mills in Doha; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Agf Agf says:

    Why doesn’t Hamas just surrender? War over. Rebuilding of Gaza can begin. Better still the civilians of Gaza rise up and overthrow the monsters. Same outcome.

  • L T. says:

    Not a single UN organisation has any credibility. They are biased if not complicit, as has been proved with UNWRA . The same can be said for the Red Cross. The majority of Palestinians are complicit with Hamas and have been for years. Their victimhood is elevating them to a sinless people, which is completely without merit. Their terrible living conditions and current humanitarian crisis is entirely the fault of Hamas and their surrounding Arab neighbour states who, even now, keep their borders closed. This article refers to discredited agencies and refers to Hamas as gunmen and fighters – they are terrorists and proxies of Iran. Wake up DM – your reportage is intellectually lazy and from non trustworthy sources.

  • Steve Marks says:

    Perfectly articulated by Israel

    “We did not start this war. We regret civilian casualties but when you want to face evil, you have to operate,” the official said.

    Hamas must be deleted

  • Candee Thompson says:

    If the DM does not assign impartial and unbiased reporters to this story, I will be cancelling my membership. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose sole aim is to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. This is not a war about territory or political compromise, this is about genocide and extermination of an entire people (again).
    Civilian casualties during war are awful, but imagine if these same reporters were reporting in 1945. What would they have said about the British and Americans dedicating all their troops and resources to halt the Nazis? Were there no civilians in Berlin, or Nagasaki, or Hiroshima?
    Really, DM, please find your voice of truth.

    • Agf Agf says:

      Well said. The DM coverage appears biased on the side of Palestine.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      Candace, fortunately DM has a lively comments section, a critical analysis of which will comfortably show which way the wind blows. DM is not unlike most liberal-democratic media in its coverage, unfortunately. However, cancelling opinions that we disagree with is not as powerful as the ability to stand up to them and engage them.

    • Louise Wilkins says:

      Gosh, you’re going to cancel your suscription because DM doesn’t have the same opinion as you on one of the most worldwide controversial subjects? Thats a bit narrow minded.

  • Johann Fourie says:

    Your latest article concerning Gaza is bias and only creates more of the illusion that Israel is the enemy and Gaza the victim. T amhey have Hamas leaders, and they have been “hiding” them underground for many years. Have they made any attempt to sell them out or get rid of their leaders? No. Nothing is printed or said along those lines.

  • Louise Wilkins says:

    Both sides have a point. Both sides are at fault. Both sides need to stop.

    I’m appalled by the amount of people who think its ok to kill so many people on the whim of one power hungry man who is consumed with politics and religion.

    • Alex Wood says:

      Louise, few people want to kill other people unless it is essential to do so! Hamas has to be killed by the Israelis to survive and its as simple as that! It is obvious that you have no knowledge of what Hamas is all about as followers of Islam and the history of the Jewish nation as Gods chosen people.
      Be appalled by what Hamas has created in Gaza and then you are closer to the truth of the matter.

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