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GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces continued their air and ground bombardments in the southern Gaza Strip, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, even as the United States and United Nations repeatedly urged them to protect civilians.
Asked on Monday about the rising death toll since the truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed on Friday, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, said it was too early to say whether Israel was doing enough to protect civilians and that he hoped Israel would not attack areas it has identified as safe.
Residents and journalists on the ground said intense Israeli airstrikes in the south of the densely populated coastal enclave included areas where Israel had told people to seek shelter.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Israel to avoid further actions that would worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in Hamas-ruled Gaza and prevent further suffering for civilians.
“The Secretary-General is extremely alarmed by the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas… For the people who have been ordered to evacuate, there is nowhere safe to go and very little to survive,” the spokesman said. UN, Stephane Dujarric.
Israel largely captured the northern half of Gaza in November, and since a week-long truce collapsed on Friday, they have quickly pushed deep into the southern half.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, said its fighters were involved in fierce clashes with Israeli soldiers north and east of Khan Younis, the main city in southern Gaza.
Israeli tanks have entered Gaza across the border and cut off the main north-south route, residents said. The Israeli military said the central road leading north out of Khan Younis “constitutes a battlefield” and was now closed.
Israel said on Tuesday that three of its soldiers had been killed in combat in Gaza on Monday, in what Army Radio described as a day of fierce battles with Hamas fighters. Seventy-eight soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the army’s ground invasion.
Israel launched its attack to eliminate Hamas in retaliation for an October 7 cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen against border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival. Militants killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages, according to Israeli counts, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.
Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), said Israel’s resumption of the military operation was repeating “horrors of weeks past” by displacing people who had previously been displaced, crowding hospitals and further strangle the humanitarian operation due to limited supplies.
“We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza, whether in the south or the southwest, whether in Rafah or in any unilaterally called ‘safe zone,'” he said.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated calls for Israel to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.
“WHO received notification from the Israel Defense Forces that we should remove our supplies from our medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours, as ground operations will render them unusable,” he posted on Monday. on X, formerly known as Twitter.
DISPLACED IN A YARMO
Up to 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have already fled their homes in the eight weeks of war that have turned the overcrowded enclave into a wasteland.
On Monday, Israel ordered Palestinians to leave parts of Khan Younis, saying they should move toward the Mediterranean coast and towards Rafah, a city near the border with Egypt.
Desperate Gazans in Khan Younis packed their belongings and headed towards Rafah. Most were on foot, passing ruined buildings in a solemn, silent procession.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said it was an “improvement” that Israel was seeking evacuations in specific areas rather than entire cities.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington hoped Israel would avoid attacking areas identified as “no-strike” zones in Gaza.
He said the United States had discussed with Israel how long the war with Hamas should continue, but declined to share that timeline.
A senior Israeli official said time was being taken to order more precise evacuations to limit civilian casualties, but that Israel could not completely rule them out.
“We did not start this war. We regret the civilian casualties, but when you want to confront evil, you have to operate,” said the official.
More than 100 of the hostages taken by Iran-backed Hamas were freed during a seven-day truce last month. Israeli authorities say seven civilians and an army colonel died in captivity, while 137 hostages remain in Gaza.
In the eight weeks of war, Gaza’s Health Ministry said at least 15,899 Palestinians, 70% of them women or children under 18, have been killed. Thousands more are said to be missing and feared buried under rubble, with around 900 dead since the truce ended on Friday.
Israel accuses Hamas of endangering civilians by operating from civilian areas, including tunnels that can only be destroyed with large bombs. Hamas denies this.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing U.S. officials, that Israel had set up a system of bombs that could be used to flood Hamas tunnels.
According to the story, it was unclear whether Israel would consider using the bombs before all the hostages were freed.
Reporting by Mohammed Salem in Gaza, Maayan Lubell, Ari Rabinovich and Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Maggie Fick in Beirut and Andrew Mills in Doha; Written by Humeyra Pamuk and Stephen Coates; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lincoln Feast and Kim Coghill
Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.