Israel has been heavily bombarding southern Gaza in recent days as its troops appear to be closing in on its main city, Khan Younis and concerns grow that there is almost nowhere left for civilians to flee.
The United Nations’ office for humanitarian affairs said the 24 hours leading up to Monday afternoon marked some of the most intense bombing by Israel since the war started on Oct. 7.
The bombardment has come despite strong warnings from U.S. officials to their Israeli counterparts to take a more precise approach in the second phase of war that leads to fewer civilian deaths. The first stage of the war left widespread destruction and casualties in northern Gaza.
Satellite imagery analyzed by The New York Times showed that the Israeli military had expanded its ground offensive into southern Gaza between Friday and Sunday, advancing into the last section of the strip under full Hamas control. Images from Monday showed smoke rising from flattened buildings and people carrying bodies swaddled in blankets.
Asked Monday if Israel was doing enough to take a more targeted approach, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said it was “too soon” to make that judgment. He added, though, that Israel had published an online map and posted warnings on social media telling civilians to leave specific areas ahead of ground maneuvers.
But Gaza has been hit by frequent sustained power outages, making communication difficult and raising questions about whether the strip’s 2.2 million civilians are able to access Israel’s warnings. Adding to the communications problems, late on Monday, Paltel, Gaza’s main telecommunications provider, said all connectivity in the territory was once again lost.
And the U.N. humanitarian office said on Monday that some of the shelters Israel has told people to flee to were “already overcrowded.”
After being ordered to leave northern Gaza in the first month of war, the enclave’s beleaguered civilians are now being pushed further into a patchwork of smaller and smaller areas, even then with no guarantee that they will be spared airstrikes.
Thomas White, the Gaza director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, said early Tuesday that neighborhoods that are home to some 600,000 people were ordered to be emptied. The evacuation could drive an additional half million people to Rafah, along the southern border with Egypt, doubling the number of the displaced sheltering in the already brimming city, he wrote on the social media site X.
With the shelters in Rafah already well beyond capacity, the new arrivals were erecting tents and fashioning makeshift shelters in the streets or whatever empty spaces they can find around the city, according to the daily report from the United Nations’ office for humanitarian affairs.
International aid groups described in increasingly urgent terms the realities faced by Gaza’s civilians and the near impossibility of providing them with any relief.
“If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond,” Lynn Hastings, the U.N. aid coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.
The World Health Organization said in a statement Monday that the sick and wounded were pouring into the few hospitals that are still operating — facilities that are also at risk of being knocked offline by the expanded hostilities.
“We have seen what happened in northern Gaza. This cannot be the blueprint for the south,” the agency said.
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