Israeli military tells all Gaza City residents to evacuate

The Israeli military has told all residents of Gaza City to evacuate south to the central Gaza Strip, amid an intensified offensive there.

Leaflets dropped by aircraft instruct “everyone in Gaza City” to leave what is described as a “dangerous combat zone” via designated safe routes – marked as two roads that lead to shelters in Deir al-Balah and al-Zawaida.

The UN has said it is deeply concerned about the evacuation orders being given.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli forces have issued evacuation orders for and re-entered several areas of Gaza City where they believe Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have regrouped since the start of the year.

The fighting is continuing as indirect negotiations over a potential ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas are set to resume in Qatar. The talks will be attended by the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the US and Israel.

There are estimated to be more than a quarter-of-a-million people still living in Gaza City – and some were observed evacuating to the south.

Others, though, were not willing to leave.

“I will not leave Gaza. I will not make the stupid mistake that others have made. Israeli missiles do not differentiate between north and south,” Gaza resident Ibrahim al-Barbari, 47, told the BBC.

“If death is my fate and the fate of my children, we will die with honour and dignity in our homes,” he said.

In a statement issued earlier on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its troops had “conducted a counterterrorism operation” overnight against Hamas and PIJ fighters who were operating inside a headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) in Gaza City.

The troops had opened a “defined corridor to facilitate the evacuation of civilians” from the area before they entered the structure and “eliminated terrorists in close-quarters combat”, it added.

There was no immediate comment from Unrwa.

The IDF also said it had killed dozens of fighters in Gaza City’s eastern Shejaiya district and dismantled an underground tunnel route over the past day.

Speaking in the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that 60% of Hamas fighters had been killed or wounded since Israel’s offensive began. The BBC could not independently verify these figures.

On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Office said it was “appalled by IDF orders for residents to evacuate to “areas where Israeli military operations are ongoing and where civilians continue to be killed and injured”.

It also warned that the Deir al-Balah area was already seriously overcrowded with Palestinians displaced from other areas of Gaza and that there was little infrastructure and limited access to humanitarian assistance.

The Israeli military launched a campaign in Gaza to destroy the Hamas group in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 251 others were taken hostage.

More than 38,295 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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