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Israeli military orders the evacuation of Gaza City, an early target of its war with Hamas

Medical personnel surround a wounded Palestinian child.
A Palestinian boy wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip is treated in a hospital Tuesday in Khan Yunis.
(Jehad Alshrafi / Associated Press)
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The Israeli military urged all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south Wednesday, pressing ahead with a fresh offensive across the north, south and center of the embattled territory that has killed dozens of people over the last 48 hours.

The stepped-up military activity came as U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators met with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks seeking a long-elusive cease-fire deal with Gaza’s Hamas militant group in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Israel says it is pursuing Hamas fighters that are regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the war. But heavy strikes in recent days along the length of the territory also could be aimed at putting more pressure on Hamas in the cease-fire talks.

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In a visit Wednesday to central Gaza, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. 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.”

Most postwar plans floated by diplomats and world leaders seem doomed to fail. Here’s a look at the leading ideas for what to do with the Gaza Strip.

June 4, 2024

Israel informed people in Gaza of the evacuation order by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al Balah. Gaza City, it said, will “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

Months ago, Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to flee south, and much of the population left earlier in the war. Large parts of Gaza City and urban areas around it have been flattened or left a shattered landscape by previous Israeli assaults.

The United Nations says about 300,000 Palestinians have remained in the hard-hit north, with the bulk of those said to be in Gaza City.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza.

Israeli troops have pushed into parts of Gaza City in recent days, triggering the flight of thousands of Palestinians trying to escape shelling and airstrikes. This last week, the military ordered Palestinians to evacuate eastern and central parts of the city.

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Israel’s new ground assault in Gaza’s largest city is its latest effort to battle Hamas militants regrouping in areas the army previously said had been largely cleared.

July 9, 2024

There was no immediate mass exodus from the city following Wednesday’s order. Many Palestinians have concluded that there is no refuge in war-stricken Gaza.

The military, meanwhile, said it wrapped up an operation launched late last month in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, where it killed dozens of militants and destroyed eight underground tunnels.

Wednesday’s evacuation order came after a series of deadly strikes over the last two days in other parts of the territory. Israeli bombardment early Wednesday hit four houses in Deir al Balah and the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, killing 20 Palestinians.

Among the dead were six children and three women, according to officials at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the casualties were taken. An Associated Press reporter counted the bodies. The house hit in Deir al Balah was inside the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to flee for refuge.

The overnight bombardment came hours after Israeli warplanes struck the entrance of a school sheltering displaced families outside the southern city of Khan Yunis. The toll from the strike rose to 31 people killed, including eight children, and more than 50 wounded, officials at the nearby Nasser Hospital said Wednesday.

Israeli forces are advancing deeper into the Gaza Strip’s largest city in pursuit of militants who have regrouped there.

July 8, 2024

Footage aired by Al Jazeera television showed children playing soccer in the school’s yard when a boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

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The Israeli army said the airstrike near the school and reports of civilian casualties were under review. It claimed it was targeting a Hamas militant who took part in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, though it provided no immediate evidence. The military blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, urban areas. But the army rarely comments on what it is targeting in individual strikes, which often kill women and children.

In nine months of bombardment and offensives in Gaza, Israel has killed more than 38,200 people and wounded more than 88,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. Nearly the entire population has been driven from their homes. Many have been displaced multiple times.

During the Oct. 7 raid, militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities. The militants took roughly 250 people hostage. About 120 are still in captivity, with about a third said to be dead.

Israel’s new ground assault in Gaza’s largest city has prompted what the U.N called a “dangerously chaotic” exodus of people scattering in multiple directions, unsure where to go. Some have fled to other parts of the north. The new Israeli military leaflets encouraged a mass movement south to the purported “humanitarian zone,” promising that people leaving Gaza City on the defined routes would not be stopped at Israeli checkpoints. Many Palestinians fear arrest or humiliation by troops at the checkpoints.

The Israeli military has ordered a mass evacuation of Palestinians from Khan Yunis. Israel also releases the director of Gaza’s main hospital after seven months.

July 1, 2024

After Israel on Monday called for an evacuation from eastern and central parts of Gaza City, staff at two hospitals — Al Ahli and the Patients Friends Assn. Hospital — rushed to move patients and shut down, the United Nations said.

Hospitals in Gaza have often evacuated preemptively at any sign of possible Israeli military action, fearing raids. In the last nine months, Israeli troops have attacked at least eight hospitals, causing the deaths of patients and medical workers along with massive destruction to facilities and equipment. Israel has claimed Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes, though it has provided only limited evidence.

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Only 13 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning, and those only partially, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian office.

Amid the ongoing violence, international mediators were making a new concerted effort to push through a proposed deal for a cease-fire and release of hostages.

Israel and Hamas had appeared to narrow the gaps in recent days, but obstacles remain, even after Hamas agreed to relent on its key demand that Israel commit to ending the war as part of any agreement.

Hamas still wants mediators to guarantee that negotiations conclude with a permanent cease-fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not sign any deal forcing Israel to stop its campaign in Gaza without eliminating Hamas. Hamas on Monday accused Netanyahu of “putting more obstacles in the way of negotiations,” including the operations in Gaza City.

An Egyptian official said the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, went to Doha to join discussions over the deal. The official said U.S. and Israeli officials were also attending. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press on the meetings.

A day earlier, CIA Director William Burns, who has led the American mediation, met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi in Cairo.

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Shurafa and Magdy write for the Associated Press. Magdy reported from Cairo. AP writer Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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