Israel is planning military operations in southern Gaza and has asked residents of some neighborhoods to evacuate their homes, according to leaflets dropped in the town of Khan Younis that signaled a potential expansion of Israel’s invasion.
Israel has mainly focused operations in northern Gaza during its war against Hamas, while carrying out airstrikes south of the Wadi Gaza River, an area to which it has demanded the movement of more than a million Palestinian civilians.
The Israel Defense Forces did not respond to questions about the thousands of leaflets dropped, and told residents in four specific neighborhoods to leave their homes immediately.
“For your safety, you need to evacuate your residences and go to the known shelters,” said a copy of the leaflet posted on social media. “Whoever is present near terrorists or their installations will put their lives in danger.”
The said neighborhoods are located in eastern Khan Younis – south of the Israeli-imposed evacuation line – and were home to at least 100,000 residents before the war. These numbers have grown as many Gazans fled south to escape the fighting in the north, also under Israeli orders.
The leaflets were dropped after US President Joe Biden signaled that the US had not given Israel a time frame to end its campaign against Hamas, despite mounting pressure from international allies, officials in his administration and members of the Democratic Party to pressure Israel to rein in that operation.
Biden said Wednesday night that Israel’s war against the Islamist militant group would end “when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder, abuse and just do terrible things” against Israel.
“How long it’s going to last, I don’t know,” Biden said after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping outside San Francisco.
Hours after the Israeli military attacked al-Shifa hospital, the largest health center in the Gaza Strip, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses “for a sufficient number of days” to allow aid to enter in the besieged enclave. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly opposed proposals for a pause in the fighting.
The US, UK and Russia abstained after Moscow tried to change the language to a ceasefire. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s UN envoy, said on social media that the Security Council resolution was “disconnected from reality and is meaningless”. “Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned.”
Israel declared war on Hamas after the group launched a surprise attack from Gaza on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, according to Israeli officials. It has promised to expel the armed group from the Palestinian territory.
The onslaught on Gaza has killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, and hospitals have gradually ceased to function as Israeli forces have pushed deeper into the coastal enclave and limited shipments of fuel, water and food. Health officials have been unable to update the death toll since the weekend, and say at least 3,000 people are still buried under the rubble.
Israel’s military previously entered al-Shifa in what it called a “targeted” operation to find Hamas weapons and infrastructure. The raid continued Thursday, according to two Palestinians, who said Israeli forces still surrounded the hospital and prevented people from leaving.
Doctors and patients sheltered on higher floors while soldiers inspected the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) department, detaining several Palestinians and taking several away for further questioning, some with visible bruises and wounds, two people at the hospital said.
In a video released by the Israel Defense Forces, the army showed about a dozen AK-47 rifles, a handful of grenades and radios and a laptop computer showing a picture of a hostage as evidence that the hospital is a major command and control headquarters for Hamas. It also showed a spindle of CD-ROMs it said would be analyzed – such discs are commonly used to transmit the results of MRIs at al-Shifa.
More raids are expected to examine the rest of the hospital. Israel claims the hospital is on top of an underground tunnel network that houses Hamas command centers. Hamas has denied the claims, describing them as an Israeli excuse to take over the hospital.
“One thing has been established . . . Hamas has headquarters, weapons, equipment under this hospital and I suspect others,” Biden said, referring to al-Shifa.
Biden distinguished between Hamas, which he said has vowed to attack Israel “again and again,” and the IDF, which he said acted with premeditation.
“The IDF . side and shoot people indiscriminately,” Biden said.
The Palestinians described a brief gun battle at the hospital’s entrance. Armored personnel carriers then tore down a wall to allow Israeli soldiers to enter the area, they added.
The US president also indicated progress was being made in talks between Qatar, Hamas, Israel and others to release some of the hostages held by Hamas, which Israel said numbered more than 200.
Biden suggested that Israel had already agreed to a pause in the fighting as part of that effort, but backed off, saying he was “getting into too much detail.”
“I’m hopeful to say the least,” Biden said.
While Israel has agreed to pauses of several hours each day, Washington is pushing to extend them to a few days to allow more humanitarian aid to enter the besieged strip and hostages to leave.