Israel Braces for Offensive in Southern Gaza After Air Strikes Kill Dozens
Israel is preparing to escalate its offensive against Hamas militants in southern Gaza following air strikes that resulted in the deaths of numerous Palestinians, including civilians seeking shelter at two schools. In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, Israel had previously distributed leaflets warning residents in the southern parts of Gaza to relocate. The focus of Israel’s ground advance in northern Gaza has been Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where the World Health Organization (WHO) described the situation as a “death zone” with signs of gunfire and shelling. The WHO is developing plans for the immediate evacuation of remaining patients and staff.
Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) reported that Israel bombarded two agency schools in the north, one of which was sheltering more than 4,000 civilians. Lazzarini expressed alarm at the repeated attacks on schools and the loss of civilian lives. A spokesperson for Gaza’s Hamas authorities claimed that 200 people were killed or injured at one of the schools. The Israeli military did not comment on the incident.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on US President Joe Biden to intervene and halt the Israeli operation in Gaza. Abbas accused Israel of killing hundreds of forcibly displaced people at the two schools and demanded that world leaders take responsibility for stopping the aggression. In response, Biden, who opposes a ceasefire, suggested that the Palestinian Authority should ultimately govern both Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, expressed doubts about the Palestinian Authority’s capability to manage Gaza in its current form.
As Israel looks to expand its offensive into southern Gaza, there are concerns about the potential humanitarian crisis that could arise. Israeli forces were accused of forcibly evacuating Al Shifa Hospital and leaving staff, patients, and displaced people to make dangerous journeys southward on foot. The Israeli military denied these claims, stating that the evacuations were voluntary. An advance into southern Gaza may prove more difficult and deadly, as Hamas militants are deeply entrenched in the region.
Meanwhile, air strikes continue to take a toll on Palestinian lives. In Khan Younis, a residential district, an air strike killed 26 Palestinians and injured 23. Eyad Al-Zaeem, who lost several relatives in the attack, expressed his frustration, stating that they had evacuated from northern Gaza on Israeli army orders to a place they were told would be safe. In Deir Al-Balah, six Palestinians were killed when a house was bombed from the air, and a third air strike in Khan Younis killed 15 Palestinians. Israel claims that Hamas often hides fighters and weaponry in civilian buildings, a claim that Hamas denies.
Over the past 24 hours, the Israeli air force has targeted numerous Gaza locations, including militants, command centers, rocket launch sites, and munitions factories. Israel reported that five soldiers were killed in Gaza since Friday, bringing the total number of casualties on the Israeli side to 57. The conflict, now in its seventh week, has displaced around two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, James Mackenzie Henriette Chacar, and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)