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Israel issues full evacuation orders for Gaza’s largest city

The Israeli military has issued a full evacuation order for Gaza City, once the largest urban center on the war-torn strip, and is dropping thousands of leaflets calling for all residents to flee.

The leaflets, addressed to “everyone in Gaza City”, listed designated escape routes and warned that the city area – where the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said up to 350,000 people were housed – would “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

The warning came as Israeli troops, backed by tanks and aircraft, have battled Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the heaviest fighting the city has seen in months since Tel Aviv launched its genocidal war on October 7.

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

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

An Israeli government spokesman said the aim was “to get civilians out of the way” as troops battle militants “where they are”.

A woman carrying her meager belongings through the ruins, Umm Nimr al-Jamal, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that “this is the 12th time” her family has had to flee.

“How many times can we endure this? A thousand times? Where will we end up?”

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement came as talks were set to resume in Qatar towards an agreement on a ceasefire and the release of hostages in the war, which is now in its tenth month.

Hamas official Hossam Badran, asked about the increased military operations, told AFP that Israel was “hoping that the resistance will abandon its legitimate demands” in ceasefire negotiations.

But “the continuation of the massacres forces us to stick to our demands,” he said.

Fierce fighting also raged in Gaza’s far southern Rafah, where witnesses told AFP that Israeli tanks had rumbled into the city center and unleashed intense fire on buildings.

‘Unacceptable’

Across Gaza, deadly strikes have hit four schools used as shelters in four days, killing at least 49 people according to doctors and officials in the Hamas-ruled territory and prompting rebukes from France and Germany.

“It is unacceptable that schools, especially those housing civilians displaced by the fighting, should be targeted,” the French foreign ministry said, calling for an investigation.

Israel said the strikes had targeted militants holed up in schools.

The Israeli military ended its operation in Gaza City’s eastern Shujaiya district, where heavy fighting had raged since an Israeli evacuation order on June 27.

A spokesman for Gaza’s civil defense agency said there was widespread “destruction”.

Shujaiya has become a “ghost town,” said Mahmud Bassal.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by spy chief David Barnea arrived in Doha for peace talks, a source with knowledge of the sensitive negotiations said.

CIA Director William Burns was also expected in the Qatari capital after holding talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, met with US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.

Netanyahu “stressed his commitment” to a proposed ceasefire plan, “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved,” his office said.

Palestinian boys carry sacks as they walk on the rubble past destroyed buildings after the Israeli military withdrew from the Shujaiya area, east of Gaza City, Palestine, July 10, 2024. (AFP Photo)

“Stop This War”

The war was sparked by Hamas’ incursion into southern Israel on October 7 that left 1,195 people dead, according to an AFP report based on Israeli figures.

The resistance members also seized 251 hostages, of which 116 remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.

In response, Israel has waged a genocidal war that has killed at least 38,295 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Israeli lawmakers that 60% of Hamas members had been “eliminated or wounded” during the war.

Israel has imposed a punishing siege on Gaza’s 2.4 million people, eased only by sporadic aid deliveries.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has warned of “critical” shortages of medical supplies in Gaza, with no resupply for more than two months.

Independent UN rights experts accused Israel on Tuesday of conducting a “targeted starvation campaign”, a claim strongly denied by Israel.

Relatives of the Israeli hostages, who have put pressure on Netanyahu and are demanding swift action to rescue their loved ones, began a four-day march from Tel Aviv to the seat of government in Jerusalem.

“We want all of Israel to come with us” and “remind Netanyahu that … he has to sign an agreement to bring them back and stop this terrible war,” said Ayala Metzger, daughter-in-law of hostage Yoram Metzger, who died in captivity.

Since the start of the Gaza war, Israeli forces have also exchanged regular fire with Hamas ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, raising fears of a wider regional conflagration.

On Wednesday, Iran-backed Hezbollah said its members had launched “a squadron of explosive drones” at an army base in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

As cross-border clashes have intensified, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday that his group would end attacks if fighting in Gaza stops.

“If a ceasefire is reached, and we all hope it will be…our front will cease fire without any discussion.”

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