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Israeli offensive shifts to crowded southern Gaza, driving up death toll despite evacuation orders

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Israeli offensive shifts to crowded southern Gaza, driving up death toll despite evacuation orders


KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel pounded targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered more neighborhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting resumed Friday morning following a weeklong truce with the territory’s ruling militant group Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Separately, the ministry announced that the overall death toll in Gaza since the Oct. 7 start of the Israel-Hamas war surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300. The ministry had stopped issuing daily updates of the overall toll on Nov. 11, following war-related disruptions of connectivity and hospital operations.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said Saturday that 70% of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people were wounded over the past two months.

With the collapse of the temporary truce, Israel had been urged by the United States, its closest ally, to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.

The appeal came after a blistering air and ground offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza, killing thousands of Palestinians and displacing hundreds of thousands. Some 2 million Palestinians, almost the entire population of Gaza, are now crammed into the southern half of the territory.

It was not clear if Israel’s military would heed appeals made Friday by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for more surgical strikes as it shifts its focus to southern Gaza. French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai on Saturday that while he acknowledges Israel’s right to defend itself, “there is no right to attack civilians.”

The Israeli military said Saturday that it hit more than 400 Hamas targets across Gaza over the past day, using airstrikes and shelling from tanks and navy gunships. This included more than 50 strikes in the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas in the southern half of Gaza.

Several houses and buildings were hit. At least nine people, including three children, were killed in a strike on a house in the city of Deir al-Balah in the south, according to the hospital where the bodies were taken. The hospital also received seven bodies of others killed in overnight airstrikes, including two children.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said they fired a barrage of rockets on southern Israel. Sirens were heard in communities near the Gaza Strip but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Along with the resumption of fighting, the military published an online map carving up the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered parcels and asked residents to familiarize themselves with the parcel number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.

On Saturday, the military used the map for the first time, listing more than two dozen parcel numbers in areas around Gaza City in the north and east of Khan Younis. Separately, the military also dropped leaflets with evacuation orders over towns east of Khan Younis.

The maps and leaflets generated panic, fear and confusion, especially in the crowded south. Unable to go back to northern Gaza or neighboring Egypt, their only escape is to move around within the 220-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) area.

“There is no place to go,” said Emad Hajar, who fled with his wife and three children from the northern town of Beit Lahia a month ago to seek refuge in Khan Younis. “They expelled us from the north, and now they are pushing us to leave the south.”

Amal Radwan, who sheltered in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, said she was not aware of such a map, adding that she and many others in the shelter are not able to leave because of the relentless bombardment. “We won’t leave,” she said. “Here is death and there is death.”

Amjad Abu Taha, a Palestinian teacher from Gaza City, alleged that Israel is trying to deceive the world by suggesting Gaza residents have the opportunity to seek safety. “But all knows that no place is safe in Gaza,” he said.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive in northern Gaza. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

The renewed hostilities have also heightened concerns for 136 hostages who, according to the Israeli military, are still held by Hamas and other militants after 105 were freed during the truce.

For families of remaining hostages, the truce’s collapse was a blow to hopes their loved ones could be the next out after days of seeing others freed. A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz, bringing the total number of known dead hostages to eight.

During the truce, Israel freed 240 Palestinians from its prisons. Most of those released from both sides were women and children.

The war began after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants, who killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel and took around 240 people captive.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was in Dubai on Saturday for the COP28 climate conference, was expected to outline proposals with regional leaders to “put Palestinian voices at the center” of planning the next steps for the Gaza Strip after the conflict, according to the White House. President Joe Biden’s administration has been emphasizing the need for an eventual two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state coexisting.

On the sidelines of the conference, she met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Her office said Harris reiterated that the United States will not permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of the territory or the redrawing of its borders.

Blinken had previous talked publicly about these parameters.

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Magdy reported from Cairo, Rising from Bangkok. Associated Press writer Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war



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