Israel launched an attack on southern Gaza following US warnings of civilian deaths

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Israel has ordered the evacuation of a large swath of southern Gaza as it stepped up aerial bombardment that has killed hundreds of people in the three days since a ceasefire with Hamas broke down.

The evacuation order appeared to signal preparations for an Israeli offensive against Hamas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis. Leaflets have been dropped and text messages have been sent warning of impending heavy military action.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said on Monday that the IDF had “entered a new phase” in the war and was “pursuing Hamas wherever it hides – north and south.”

“Every rocket launcher, weapons depot, command and control center, senior commander, underground infrastructure and any hideout where our hostages are located,” he added.

Israeli media and reports from inside Gaza indicated that IDF forces stationed in northern Gaza had begun moving south temporarily, as the IDF said it was continuing its offensive against the remaining Hamas strongholds in the north. The IDF said two Hamas battalion commanders were killed in airstrikes in northern Gaza on Sunday.

Israel’s military operation in southern Gaza would mirror previous operations against Hamas in the enclave to the north, Herzi Halevi, the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff, suggested on Sunday.

“Just like us [fought against Hamas] Strongly and fully in the northern Gaza Strip, we are now doing the same in the southern Gaza Strip,” Halevi told IDF troops massed outside the besieged Palestinian territory.

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The intense fighting came even after US officials, from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Vice President Kamala Harris, warned Israel to take additional measures to protect civilians in Gaza. Under the Obama administration deal, the U.S. pays about one-fifth of Israel’s defense budget — currently $3.8 billion a year.

“In this kind of fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. If you put them in the enemy’s hands, you replace tactical victory with strategic defeat,” Austin said at the Reagan National Security Forum in California over the weekend.

Asked on Sunday about US concerns, Israeli government spokesman Eilon Levy said: “We fully acknowledge that many people have been killed in this war. It is a sad fact that all those killed since October 7th. . . Had Hamas not decided to start this war, it would still be alive.

Responding to Harris’s comments that the civilian death toll in Gaza was too high, Levy asserted that “the Israeli army has made every effort.” [in] Upholding our obligations under international law to keep civilians out of harm’s way.

Israel and Hamas returned to fighting when a week-long ceasefire brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States collapsed on Friday.

The ceasefire allowed the release of approximately 100 Israeli women and children and foreigners held hostage by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. In return, Israel freed some 240 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons, and humanitarian aid flowed into Gaza, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007.

Palestinian officials say 15,520 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began. Israel estimated that 1,200 people were killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas, while the group also took about 240 hostages.

Palestinian officials said on Sunday that 316 people had been killed since fighting resumed on Friday. But they said this only counted those brought to hospitals and not those still under the rubble.

An air strike on Saturday killed dozens of people in a six-story building in a refugee camp in northern Gaza, the UN said.

A block in Gaza City was struck on Saturday, destroying 50 residential buildings, the UN added. The death toll from the incident is still unknown.

After concerns about civilian numbers were reported to Israel’s War Cabinet by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the IDF made public plans to issue neighborhood-by-neighborhood evacuation orders to Palestinians ahead of military operations.

But the UN, human rights groups and Palestinians said the orders were impractical, especially when the besieged enclave’s nearly 2.3 million people were already crowded into the southern part of Gaza.

Israel has proposed, but has yet to implement, a 14 sq km area in southern Gaza, an area slightly larger than London’s Heathrow Airport, as a safe zone. UN officials have said that they cannot unilaterally declare safe zones in war zones.

On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the IDF fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli military vehicle, injuring soldiers. The IDF fired back with artillery.

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