Middle East crisis: Israel orders evacuation amid attacks on Gaza City

Middle East crisis: Israel orders evacuation amid attacks on Gaza City
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Israel ordered evacuations in eastern Gaza on Thursday as heavy attacks hit the region, leaving scores of people dead, according to Palestinian officials and residents. Those in the area described a desperate scramble to escape amid ongoing explosions.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the strikes, which reportedly targeted the Shajaiye neighborhood, an area badly damaged by previous heavy fighting. Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, noted that the military was conducting a ground operation to eliminate Hamas, based on intelligence suggesting the group was regaining control of the neighborhood.

A witness from a human rights organization reported seeing Israeli tanks on the outskirts of Shajaiye.

If confirmed, the operation would mark another case of Israeli forces retreating into parts of Gaza they had previously left, particularly in the north, as Hamas regroups amid the chaos of the nine-month conflict. The war continues despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements that it will soon transition to a less intense phase, and amid growing frustration over Netanyahu’s lack of a post-Hamas governance plan for Gaza.

Gaza health authorities on Thursday reported 15 deaths and dozens of injuries in Shajaiye. The Palestinian emergency service, Civil Protection, said five houses were hit in Shajaiye and another neighbourhood, and searches were underway for the missing. These figures cannot be independently verified and Gaza authorities make no distinction between civilian and combatant casualties.

A Palestinian boy injured in the attacks has been treated at a hospital in Gaza City.

Mohammed Qraiqea, a researcher for the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in Shajaiye, described continuous artillery bombardment, airstrikes and drone fire throughout the afternoon.

“The tanks advanced slightly on the outskirts of the neighborhood,” he said, adding that most residents had been evacuated due to heavy shelling.

Israeli troops invaded northern Gaza in October following a Hamas-led attack on Israel, seizing control of the area and pushing south toward Hamas strongholds. However, they have not yet completely defeated the armed group. Shajaiye, a large neighborhood in Gaza City, is known to house a strong Hamas battalion, although the current extent of Hamas’ presence is unclear.

Hamas has used Gaza’s urban context to protect its fighters and infrastructure, building tunnels, firing rockets near homes and holding hostages in urban centers. Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, declared the group’s intention to protect Palestinian civilians.

Shajaiye was a battlefield early in the war: in December, on a particularly deadly day for Israeli forces, nine Israeli soldiers were killed there.

Some residents had returned to Shajaiye in recent months as Israeli forces focused on southern Gaza. Mohammad al-Bahrawi, 65, who returned with his family in March, was forced to flee again on Thursday because of the strikes. He described the mass exodus “like a torrent.”

“I couldn’t believe so many people were still in Shajaiye,” he said.

Al-Bahrawi was unaware of the Israeli evacuation orders posted on social media.

“We left by the mercy of God,” he said, recounting the sound of explosions coming from all directions.

When the explosions seemed to have subsided, al-Bahrawi and his family went to the courtyard of Ahli Arab hospital, where they saw some of the wounded being pulled from the rubble.

At the hospital they waited, «sitting there until God helped us and we found an apartment to stay in,» he said.

Myra Novec contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

— Hiba Yazbek and Ameera Harouda reporting from Jerusalem and Doha, Qatar

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