July 14, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Israel told all Palestinians in Gaza City to leave immediately, as a new phase of fighting intensified in what used to be the enclave’s most populous area.

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The Israel Defense Forces dropped leaflets in Arabic on the city on Wednesday, saying it “will remain a dangerous combat zone” and telling residents to move south to other parts of Gaza.

The city, home to about one million people before the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October, was the first place targeted by Israeli forces when they began a ground offensive. It was largely cleared of Hamas units by the end of 2023, yet some fighters have regrouped and the IDF has sent forces and tanks back there and launched airstrikes in the past two weeks.

Israel had already urged Palestinians from eastern areas of Gaza City to leave, but this is the first time it’s ordered a total evacuation. It’s unclear if the IDF plans to send many more soldiers into the city.

Hamas has said the attacks in Gaza City could jeopardize cease-fire talks between the two sides.

Gaza City, in the north of the strip, was largely destroyed by Israeli air strikes and the subsequent ground incursion. Most residents fled south to places such as Rafah and tented camps, but some returned earlier this year.

In late June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested the most intense phase of fighting in Gaza would be over “very soon.” Yet his military is struggling to stop Hamas from re-emerging in several areas. The IDF began a new assault on Khan Younis — previously the second-biggest city in Gaza — early this month for similar reasons.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, triggered the war when its fighters swarmed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage. Israel’s attack on Gaza has since killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

(Adds context on fighting and comments from Hamas.)

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