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‘No safe space’ as Israel steps up assault

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6 December 2023, The Age / Reuters, by Mohammed Salem

GAZA: Israeli forces are pressing ahead with their air and ground bombardment of southern Gaza Strip, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, even as the United States and the United Nations repeatedly urged them to protect civilians.

The US said the Israeli offensive in the south should not repeat the ‘‘massive’’ civilian toll of the north.

But residents and journalists on the ground said the intense Israeli air strikes in the south of the densely populated coastal enclave included areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Israel to avoid further action that would make the already dire humanitarian situation in Hamas-run Gaza worse, and to spare civilians.

‘‘The secretary-general is extremely alarmed by the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. For people ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go,’’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Israel largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday it has swiftly pushed deep into the southern half.

Hamas ally Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said its fighters engaged in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers north and east of Khan Younis, Gaza’s main southern city.

Israeli tanks have driven into Gaza and cut off the main northsouth route, residents said.

The Israeli military said the central road out of Khan Younis to the north ‘‘constitutes a battlefield’’ and was now shut.

Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, said the Israeli military was repeating ‘‘horrors from past weeks’’ by displacing people who had been previously displaced, overcrowding hospitals and further strangling the humanitarian operation.

‘‘The evacuation order pushes people to concentrate into what is less than one-third of the Gaza Strip. They need everything: food, water, shelter, and mostly safety. Roads to the south are clogged.

‘‘We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza, whether in the south, or the south-west, whether in Rafah or in any unilaterally so-called ‘safe zone’.’’

Israel’s military posted a map on X, formerly Twitter, marking off about a quarter of Khan Younis in yellow as territory that must be evacuated at once. As many as 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have already fled their homes in the eight weeks of war that has turned the enclave into a wasteland.

On the map, three arrows pointed south and west, telling people to head towards the Mediterranean coast and Rafah, a major town near the Egyptian border.

A senior Israeli official said it was taking the time to order more precise evacuations to limit civilian casualties, but that Israel could not rule them out altogether.

‘‘We did not start this war. We regret civilian casualties but when you want to face evil, you have to operate,’’ the official said.

Israel accuses Hamas of putting civilians in danger by operating from civilian areas, including in tunnels that can be destroyed only by large bombs. Hamas denies it does so.

Article link:
Article source: The Age / Reuters | Mohammed Salem | 6.12.23

2024-02-22 05:36:48.000000

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