Israel orders southern Gaza evacuation after rocket barrage

General |Author: AFP | July 2, 2024, Tuesday @ 06:47| 1600 views

Displaced Palestinians leave an area in east Khan Yunis after the Israeli army issued a new evacuation order for parts of the city and Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 1, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israel's army yet again ordered the evacuation of parts of southern Gaza on Monday following a rare rocket barrage claimed by militant group Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli military said about "20 projectiles were identified crossing from the area of Khan Yunis" in southern Gaza, in a rare salvo after nearly nine months of devastating conflict.

The rockets were aimed at Israeli communities near the Gaza border and were fired in retaliation for Israeli "crimes... against our Palestinian people", said the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad militant group which has fought alongside Hamas.

Most launches were intercepted, the Israeli military said, reporting no casualties and adding that artillery was "striking the sources of the fire".

This was followed by an order to evacuate Al-Qarara, Bani Suhaila and other towns in Rafah and Khan Yunis, nearly two months after an initial order to evacuate Rafah ahead of a ground offensive.

Prior to the ground incursion in Rafah, well over one million people had been displaced to the southernmost city.

"Fear and extreme anxiety have gripped people after the evacuation order," said Bani Suhaila resident Ahmad Najjar. "There is a large displacement of residents."

Witnesses and the civil defence agency reported Israeli air strikes including in the southern Rafah area and the central Nuseirat refugee camp.

- 'Difficult fight' -

Witnesses also reported constant Israeli tank fire in Gaza City's Shujaiya district where battles raged for a fifth day.

An AFP correspondent reported Israeli helicopters firing on houses in Shujaiya, while Hamas's armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said it was continuing to fight in Shujaiya and Rafah.

The Israeli military said troops "eliminated numerous terrorists" in raids in Shujaiya, where air strikes also killed "approximately 20" militants.

The military also announced the death of a soldier in southern Gaza, bringing its total toll during the ground offensive to 317.

Netanyahu, who recently declared that the "intense phase" of the war was winding down, said on Sunday troops were "operating in Rafah, Shujaiya, everywhere in the Gaza Strip".

"This is a difficult fight that is being waged above ground... and below ground" in tunnels.

The war started with Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,900 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

Months of on-and-off talks towards a truce and hostage release deal have made little progress, with Hamas saying Saturday there was "nothing new" in a revised plan presented by US mediators.

- 'Torture' -

Israeli authorities released Mohammed Abu Salmiya, director of Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, along with dozens of other detainees returned Monday to Gaza for treatment, sparking anger from Netanyahu.

Successive Israeli raids have reduced large parts of Al-Shifa, the territory's largest medical complex, to rubble.

Israel has accused Hamas of using Al-Shifa and other hospitals in Gaza as a cover for military operations, claims the militants have rejected.

Speaking after his release, Abu Salmiya said he had suffered "severe torture" during his detention since November.

"Detainees were subjected to physical and psychological humiliation" and "several inmates died in interrogation centres and were deprived of food and medicine", he said.

Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency said it had decided on the release alongside the Israeli military "to free up places in detention centres".

The agency said it "opposed the release of terrorists" who had taken part in attacks on Israeli civilians "so it was decided to free several Gaza detainees who represent a lesser danger".

But Netanyahu said he had ordered the agency to conduct an investigation into the release and provide him with the results by Tuesday.

"The release of the director of Shifa Hospital is a serious mistake and a moral failure. The place of this man, under whose responsibility our abductees were murdered and held, is in prison," Netanyahu said in a statement.

According to Abu Salmiya, no charges were ever brought against him.

The United Nations and relief agencies have voiced alarm over the dire humanitarian crisis and the threat of starvation the war and Israeli siege have brought for Gaza's 2.4 million people.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA reported that during the entire month of June, Israeli authorities facilitated less than half of 115 planned humanitarian assistance missions to northern Gaza.

In a displacement camp in Gaza's Deir al-Balah, pharmacist Sami Hamid said skin infections were on the rise, particularly among children, "because of the hot weather and lack of clean water".

"The number of skin infections has increased, especially scabies and chickenpox," as have hepatitis cases probably linked to untreated sewage flowing right beside tents, said Hamid.

© Agence France-Presse