Israel orders residents to evacuate as tanks storm Gaza City districts

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Israeli tanks advanced into the heart of Gaza City from different directions on Monday and Israel ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate neighborhoods after a night of bombardments which Gaza authorities said had killed dozens.

Residents said the airstrikes and artillery barrages - which took place as multi-national negotiations for a ceasefire deal intensified - were among the heaviest attacks on the Gaza Strip in nine months of conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

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Gaza City, in the north of the Palestinian enclave, was one of the first areas that Israeli troops moved into at the start of the war. But fighting with militants still holding out there has persisted and civilians have sought shelter elsewhere, adding to multiple waves of displacement. Much of the city lies in ruins.

Residents said neighborhoods of Gaza City had been bombed throughout the night into the early morning hours. Several multi-story buildings have been destroyed, they said.

The Gaza Civil Emergency Service said it believed dozens of people were killed but emergency teams were unable to reach them because of ongoing offensives in Daraj and Tuffah in the east and Tel Al-Hawa, Sabra and Rimal further west.

Gaza residents said tanks advanced from at least three directions on Monday and reached the heart of Gaza City, backed by heavy Israeli fire from the air and ground.

That forced thousands of people out of their homes to look for safer shelter, which for many was impossible to find, and some slept on the roadside.

One tank thrust pushed people towards the western road near the Mediterranean, residents said.

“The enemy is behind us and the sea is in front of us, where we will we go?” said Abdel-Ghani, a Gaza City resident who did not give his full name.

“Tank shells and missiles from the planes are falling on the roads and houses like hell from a volcano. People are running in all directions and no one knows where to go,” Abdel-Ghani told Reuters via a chat app.

The Israeli military said in a statement it was mounting an operation against militant infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and that it had taken more than 30 fighters out of action.

Later on Monday, it issued new evacuation orders to the residents of Sabra, Rimal, Tel Al-Hawa and Daraj districts.

“For your security, you must evacuate immediately to Deir al-Balah shelters in the humanitarian zone,” it said in a social media post, referring to an area in central Gaza.

The war was triggered on Oct. 7 when fighters led by Hamas, which controlled Gaza, attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

Since then at least 38,193 Palestinians have been killed in the military offensive and 87,903 have been wounded, Gaza’s health ministry said in an update on Monday. A total of 40 Palestinians were killed in the past 24 hours, the ministry said in a statement.

Medics at the Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital in Gaza City had to evacuate patients to the already crowded and under-equipped Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said.

The Israeli military said a route would be opened so civilians could evacuate from affected areas. It said fighters with Hamas, and allied group Islamic Jihad, were hiding behind civilian infrastructure to attack Israeli forces.

The Palestinian Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said they fired mortar bombs against Israeli forces during the raid in southwest Gaza City.

Hopes for a pause

The new Israeli offensive comes as Egypt, Qatar and the United States stepped up efforts to mediate a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Hopes among Gaza residents of a pause in the fighting had revived after Hamas accepted a key part of a US ceasefire proposal, prompting an official in the Israeli negotiating team to say there was a real chance of a deal.

Hamas has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before it would sign an agreement. Instead, the militant group said it would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, a Hamas source told Reuters on Saturday.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the deal must not prevent Israel from resuming fighting until its war objectives are met. Those goals were defined at the start of the war as dismantling Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, as well as returning Israeli hostages.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Monday it would be a huge mistake to stop the Israeli offensive now.

Smotrich, who heads a pro-settler party which is part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, wrote on social media platform X: “Hamas is collapsing and begging for a ceasefire. This is the time to squeeze the neck until we crush and break the enemy.”

Smotrich said underscored later on Monday that a ceasefire and hostage release deal would constitute a defeat for Israel and he wants no part of it.

“This deal is a defeat and humiliation of Israel,” Smotrich told a meeting of the party he leads, which is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

“Mr. Prime Minister, this is not an absolute victory. This is total failure. We will not be part of a deal of surrender to Hamas.”

Hamas said the new Israeli offensive in Gaza City will not succeed in breaking them.

“The arrogant enemy, which is practicing the ugliest forms of aggression and violations against unarmed civilians, with absolute backing from the US administration will not succeed in breaking our steadfast people regardless of how much it escalates its crimes,” the group said in a statement.

Read more:

Netanyahu: Gaza deal must let Israel resume fighting until war goals met

Israeli airstrike on Gaza school kills four, including Hamas official

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