July 14, 2024

The Israeli military has ordered all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south, as it presses ahead with a fresh offensive across the north, south and centre of the Gaza Strip that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.

Leaflets dropped from the air on Wednesday urged “everyone in Gaza City” to leave and to take “safe routes” south towards Deir el-Balah and az-Zawayda.

Gaza’s interior ministry has called on residents in Gaza City to refrain from following Israeli evacuation orders, saying the instructions are a part of the Israeli army’s psychological warfare against Palestinians.

The United Nations said the latest evacuations “will only fuel mass suffering for Palestinian families, many of whom have been displaced many times”.

“The civilians must be protected,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Reporting from Deir-el Balah, Al Jazeera’s Hind Khoudary said that Palestinians in Gaza City – where Israeli attacks have intensified – felt trapped and did not know where to go.

“Let me also remind you that there are no civil defence teams, and there’s no Red Cross. No one is there to evacuate those Palestinians,” she said.

Israel issued the first formal evacuation order for part of the city on June 27, and two more in the following days.

The government says it is pursuing Hamas fighters who are regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the war. The renewed ground assault started in the city’s eastern Shujayea neighbourhood, but this week tanks also moved to central and western districts, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee southwards.

Israel ramps up attacks in Gaza

The latest evacuation order comes a day after an Israeli air attack on al-Awdah School, killed at least 30 people and wounded 53 others, most of them women and children, according to Palestinian medics.

Exclusive footage from the school, obtained by Al Jazeera, shows young Palestinians playing football outside the school as dozens of people watch. Then a loud explosion is heard, sending people running for cover.

A Palestinian boy told Al Jazeera he lost several relatives in the attack. “We were sitting and a missile fell and destroyed everything,” he said, sobbing. “I lost my uncle, my cousins and my relatives.”

The attack has been condemned by world leaders and the Israeli military has said it is investigating.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said on X that two-thirds of the schools it administers in the Gaza Strip, which have served as shelters for displaced Palestinians since the war began, have been hit, killing 524 people.

“UN structures, schools and shelters are not a target,” it said.

On Wednesday, the Israeli army also said it attacked fighters inside the headquarters of UNRWA.

In a visit to central Gaza on Wednesday, Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, said forces were operating in different ways, in multiple parts of the territory “to carry out a very important mission: pressure”.

“We will continue operating to bring home the hostages,” Halevi said.

At least 38,295 people have been killed and 88,241 wounded in Israel’s war on Gaza since October, according to Palestinian officials. Gaza’s health ministry said on Wednesday that 52 Palestinians were killed and 208 injured in the previous 24 hours.

Israel launched its war on Gaza after Hamas led an attack on southern Israel, killing at least 1,139 people, according to an Al Jazeera tally based on Israeli statistics, and seized about 250 others as hostages, dozens of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

Progress in ceasefire talks?

The stepped-up Israeli military activity comes as United States, Egyptian and Qatari mediators met with Israeli officials in Qatar’s capital, Doha, for talks seeking a long-elusive ceasefire deal and an exchange of captives held by Hamas for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas officials have raised concerns that heavy Israeli strikes in recent days along the length of the territory could derail the negotiations.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, said on Monday that Israel’s escalating assault has threatened talks at a crucial time and could bring negotiations “back to square one”.

Hamas, however, still wants international mediators to guarantee that truce talks in Doha conclude with a permanent ceasefire. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not agree to any deal forcing Israel to stop its campaign in Gaza without eliminating Hamas.

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