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

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

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the attacks, which reportedly targeted the Shajaiye neighborhood, an area badly damaged by previous intense fighting. Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, noted that the army was conducting a ground operation to eliminate Hamas, based on intelligence that suggested 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, this operation would mark another case of Israeli forces returning to parts of Gaza they had previously vacated, particularly in the north, as Hamas regroups amid the chaos of the nine-month conflict. The war continues despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims 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 reported 15 deaths and dozens of injuries in Shajaiye on Thursday. The Palestinian emergency service, Civil Defence, said five houses were hit in Shajaiye and another neighbourhood, with searches underway for the missing. These figures could not be independently verified and Gaza authorities do not distinguish between civilian casualties and combatants.

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 reported, 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 environments to protect its fighters and infrastructure, building tunnels, firing rockets near homes and holding hostages in city centers. Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said the group intended to protect Palestinian civilians.

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

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

“I couldn’t believe there were still so many people 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, describing 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 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,” she said.

Myra Novec contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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

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