Israeli warplanes struck targets in southern Gaza on Monday as the military demanded that more civilians evacuate their homes in the area, signaling a possible expansion of its ground war in the battered Palestinian enclave.
Days after a truce with Hamas collapsed, Israeli forces have turned their focus to southern Gaza, hitting areas where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter since the start of the war on Oct. 7. Israeli airstrikes targeted urban areas in the south, where photos on Monday showed smoke rising from flattened buildings in the city of Khan Younis and people carrying bodies swaddled in blankets away from scenes of destruction.
Adding to speculation that Israel is preparing a ground invasion of the south, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said late Sunday that Israel “continues and expands its ground operations against Hamas strongholds all across the Gaza Strip,” although he did not elaborate.
A senior official with Hamas, the armed group that controls much of Gaza, said late Sunday that Israeli ground troops had not entered the south. But Hamas’s military wing said that its fighters had targeted a tank and personnel carrier north of Khan Younis and several Israeli military vehicles in central Gaza. The claims could not be independently verified, and with communications networks disrupted, it was not possible to gain an independent assessment of the fighting.
On Sunday, the Israeli military called on residents of parts of Khan Younis, the largest city in the south, to leave their homes, expanding an evacuation order that previously covered areas between the city and the Israeli border. The demands echoed similar orders Israel gave before sending troops into northern Gaza in late October, and the Israeli military has said they are intended to move civilians out of harm’s way.
Many Gazans were left confused by the evacuation announcements, which were posted on social media in Arabic, accompanied by a map of Gaza that divided the territory into nearly 2,400 zones. The Israeli military advised residents to pay attention to Israeli announcements about whether their zone was being evacuated, but the United Nations said it was unclear whether many Gazans were able to see the online map, given disruptions in electricity and communications.
After more than a month of fighting concentrated in northern Gaza — and a weeklong cease-fire that expired last Friday — Israel believes that the Hamas leaders who planned the Oct. 7 attacks that officials say left at least 1,200 people dead in Israel are hiding in the south. Israel’s military has responded to the attacks with nearly two months of airstrikes and a ground invasion of northern Gaza that have killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health officials, and pushed an estimated 1.75 million Gazans south.
Hundreds of people have been killed since hostilities resumed on Friday, according to Gazan health officials, who have warned that medical facilities remain desperately short of supplies, as Israel has sharply restricted the amount of humanitarian aid allowed to enter the enclave.
Fighting has continued in other parts of Gaza. The Israeli military reported the deaths of three of its soldiers on Sunday, two in battles in northern Gaza and one in a battle in the central part of the strip.
The Biden administration is pushing Israel and Hamas to resume negotiations that could lead to a new cease-fire. Under the previous truce, Hamas released scores of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for more than 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and Israel allowed more trucks carrying relief supplies into Gaza.
U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and international leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, have said that Israel must do more to protect civilians in Gaza. Mr. Macron is headed to Qatar, which mediated the original truce, in hopes of restarting talks.
Vivian Yee, Iyad Abuheweila, Peter Baker and Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.
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