Israeli air strikes on residential blocks in south Gaza killed at least 32 Palestinians on Saturday, medics said, after Israel again warned civilians to relocate as it turns to attacking Hamas in the enclave’s south after subduing the north.
Such a move could compel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from the Israeli assault on Gaza City to move again, along with residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, worsening a dire humanitarian crisis.
“We’re asking people to relocate. I know it’s not easy for many of them, but we don’t want to see civilians caught up in the crossfire,” Mark Regev, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told MSNBC on Friday.
Israel vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip after its Oct. 7 rampage into Israel in which its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged 240 hostages into the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza City – the enclave’s urban core – to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the northern half of the narrow strip and displaced around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians. Many of those who have fled fear their homelessness could become permanent.
Gaza health authorities raised their death toll on Friday to more than 12 000, 5 000 of them children. The United Nations deems those figures credible, though they are now updated infrequently due to the difficulty of collecting information.
Overnight on Saturday, 26 Palestinians were killed and 23 injured by an air strike on two apartments in a multi-storey block in a busy residential district of Khan Younis, according to health officials.
A few km (miles) to the north, six Palestinians were killed when a house was bombed from the air in Deir Al-Balah, according to health authorities.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, which says Hamas militants use residential buildings and districts in densely populated Gaza as cover for operations posts and weaponry, something the Islamist movement denies.
Israel dropped leaflets over Khan Younis telling residents to evacuate to shelters, suggesting military operations there were imminent.
Regev said Israeli troops would have to advance into the city to oust Hamas fighters from underground tunnels and bunkers but that no such “enormous infrastructure” existed in less built-up areas to the west, closer to the Mediterranean coast.
“I’m pretty sure that they won’t have to move again” if they move west, he said, referring to people in the area. “We’re asking them to move to an area where hopefully there will be tents and a field hospital.”
Regev said that since western areas were closer to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, humanitarian aid could be brought in “as quickly as possible”.