Israel told Gazans to move south. Why is it attacking it?

Israel told Gazans to move south. Why is it attacking it?

October 26, 2023

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Israel has told civilians in the northern Gaza Strip, including residents of Gaza City, to move to the south of the enclave, below the Wadi Gaza nature reserve, saying it will be safer there as it attacks Hamas following its October 7 cross-border assault.

However, Israeli warplanes have continued to hit sites in southern Gaza, spreading fear among the evacuees that they are just as vulnerable there as they were in their homes in the north. Here is an overview of the situation.

A wounded Palestinian man is wheeled into the Nasser Medical Complex, following Israeli airstrikes on the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.Credit: AP

Why is Israel still hitting the south?

Since telling Gazans to head south, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have continued to pound targets across the area, killing an unknown number of civilians. In all, authorities in Gaza say 6546 Palestinians have been killed since Israeli strikes started in retaliation for Hamas’ terror attack on Israel that killed 1400 people on October 7. Residents said the bombardment of the south intensified on October 25. One strike brought down several apartment buildings in Khan Younis, some 10 kilometres from the Egyptian border.

The military has said the homes where terrorists live are “legitimate targets” even if civilians live alongside them.

“The so-called private home is not a private home,” a senior Israeli air force officer told reporters in a recent briefing.

Palestinians inspect the damage caused by an Israeli airstrike on a house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip.Credit: AP

The IDF has said that even if Hamas’ main power centre is in Gaza City, it is nonetheless entrenched among the civilian population across the enclave.

“Wherever a Hamas target arises, the IDF will strike at it in order to thwart the terrorist capabilities of the group, while taking feasible precautions to mitigate the harm to uninvolved civilians,” the military said on Wednesday, reiterating previous statements.

Why did Israel order the evacuation to the south?

The Israeli military said on October 12 that nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population should move to the southern half of Gaza within 24 hours. The military said the order was aimed at moving civilians away from “Hamas terror targets”, which it believes are concentrated in the north.

Buildings destroyed during Israeli air raids on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 23.Credit: Getty

Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus subsequently said: “We are preparing the area for significant military activity in Gaza City. That is the next stage. That’s why we are asking civilians to go south of the Gaza River.”

Israel has massed troops on the border with Gaza and is widely expected to launch a land invasion. On October 18, the military urged residents of Gaza to evacuate to what it called a humanitarian zone in al-Mawasi, on the coast of southern Gaza. Israel renewed its warnings on October 22, saying that anyone staying in the north could be identified as sympathisers of a “terrorist organisation” if they did not leave.

How many people have moved?

Hamas, a designated terror organisation in Australia, the US among others, has urged Palestinians to ignore the Israeli warnings.

Israel said on Wednesday it had attacked Hamas roadblocks that it believed were stopping people evacuate.

Despite Hamas’ attempts to stop an exodus, residents and international aid organisations say there has been a mass displacement of people away from the north and other areas of the enclave seen as especially vulnerable.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated on October 24 that more than 1.4 million people were internally displaced (IDPs) within Gaza.

Some 350,000 Palestinians are still in northern Gaza, according to Israeli estimates reported by the Associated Press.

Still, many Palestinians are choosing to return north, tired of moving from place-to-place under Israeli fire as shelters become overcrowded and unlivable, the AP reported. UN monitors estimate 30,000 have returned.

Ekhlas Ahmed, 24 and eight-months pregnant, was among them.

A week ago, she fled Gaza City after repeated Israeli warnings to move south. She returned after the home she was sheltering in along with 14 other family members in the south was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

“It was a residential building and they bombed it,” she said.

Ahmed, who has a four-year-old son, is hoping for a ceasefire.

“I am very frightened. All of us are frightened,” she said.

Gaza’s border crossings with both Egypt and Israel are closed, effectively trapping residents inside the enclave. Some aid trucks have been allowed in from Egypt.

What has the international community said?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said giving hundreds of thousands of people just hours to leave their homes was “dangerous and deeply troubling”. Many Western governments have called for a pause in the fighting to open humanitarian corridors for the trapped civilians. Arab nations have called for Israel to stop the war.


More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Cascading violence: Tremors from the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have reached far beyond the border. But what would all-out war in the Middle East look like?
  • The human cost: Hamas’ massacre in Israel has traumatised – and hardened – survivors. And in Gaza, neighbourhoods have become ghost cities.
  • “Hamas metro”: Inside the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels, which the Palestinian militant group has commanded beneath war-ravaged Gaza for 16 years. The covert corridors have long provided essential channels for the movement of weapons and armed combatants.
  • What is Hezbollah?: As fears of the conflict expanding beyond Israel and Hamas steadily rise, all eyes are on the militant group and political party that controls southern Lebanon and has been designated internationally as a terrorist group. How did it form and what does Iran have to do with it?

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