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Israel orders new evacuations and advances with tanks in southern Gaza

The army is urging civilians to leave part of the city of Khan Yunis, which hosts some 200,000 displaced persons from the north. The Israeli secret services assure that they will kill all Hamas leaders ‘in every location’ even if it ‘takes a few years’

Guerra entre Israel y Gaza
Victims of Israeli bombings at the Nasser hospital in the Gazan city of Khan Yunis, this Monday.MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)

Israel calls them blocks 36, 38 to 54 and 219 to 221. These are the areas of Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Yunis, which dozens of Israeli tanks are approaching on Monday, that the army is urging civilians to evacuate, forcing them to move to other areas also targeted by Israeli bombardments. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has disseminated, with leaflets falling from the sky and via text messages, a map with three yellow arrows in the direction of another southern city, Rafah, and the Mediterranean coast. But very few are following the map. Under the constant sound of airstrikes and gunfire, the population feels that there is no safe place in Gaza, and each evacuation is only a prelude to the next.

The Israeli text message links to another map (with hundreds of boxes and in which the Khan Yunis blocks appear) to be consulted through a cell phone with a QR code, in an enclave without any type of internet connection and with frequent telecommunications outages. The IDF began disseminating these maps last Friday, when the week-long truce between Israel and Hamas came to an end and Israel launched its military campaign in southern Gaza. Cities in the south currently hold 1.8 million of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million after the Israeli military campaign forcibly displaced millions of people from their homes in northern Gaza, which now lies in ruins.

Khan Yunis, whose population is estimated to have grown from 200,000 to 400,000 due to the internal displacement caused by the war, has become one of the main targets of Israeli bombardment. The army has partially declared it a “dangerous combat zone.” The IDF has destroyed numerous buildings in Hamad City, a residential project of more than 1,000 properties where displaced persons from other parts of the Strip sought refuge. According to residents quoted by Agence France Presse, they were warned of the bombing an hour in advance.

Qatar — today a key mediator in the conflict between Israel and Hamas and a key financier of Gaza over the years — built Hamad City to rehouse destitute Palestinians who had lost their homes in the 2014 Israeli offensive, the most lethal until the one triggered by the Hamas attack on October 7. In 2014, some 2,300 Palestinians were killed. In the past two months of the war in Gaza, 15,899 people have been killed, 70% of them children and women, according to data released Monday by the Gazan Health Ministry.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, December 4, 2023
Several people in the rubble after an attack on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, this Monday.STAFF (REUTERS)

Israel has set itself the goal of politically and militarily destroying Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza. It foresees a long war lasting at least another two months, followed by regime change, permanent security control by Israel and the establishment of a security buffer zone. To achieve this, for Israel it is not enough to have taken over the capital and the rest of northern Gaza; it considers it essential to also penetrate the urban centers in the south, such as Khan Yunis. Considered a Hamas fiefdom, the city has an added symbolic component: it is the birthplace of Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Islamist party-militia and Israel’s most wanted man. He is presumed to be hiding underground and without access to electronic devices that can be traced by intelligence services.

“Our Munich”

The targets are not limited to Gaza. Israel intends to emulate with Hamas the assassination campaign — brought to fiction by Steven Spielberg — conducted by the Mossad in different parts of the world after the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This campaign was originally meant to last 20 years.

This past Sunday, Israeli public television broadcast a recording in which Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet (the secret services in Israel and Palestine), is heard assuring that his country is determined to kill all Hamas leaders “in every location, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar, everywhere.” “It will take a few years, but we will be there in order to do it,” he is heard adding. “The cabinet set a goal for us, to take out Hamas. And we are determined to do it, this is our Munich.”

Another goal is the return of the hostages taken by Hamas. Although negotiations continue behind the scenes, there is a feeling that the return of hostilities has put the issue even further on the back burner, despite the fact that 137 hostages (115 men, 20 women and two children) are still in Gaza. Fifteen of them, both soldiers and civilians, have been declared dead, following the release of hostages who have returned with information confirming their deaths. It does not mean that they were killed there by Hamas or died in Israeli bombardments, as they could have been killed in the October 7 attack and then taken to Gaza.

This Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has again insisted that the military advance does not clash with efforts to free the abductees, but quite the contrary: it pushes Hamas to negotiate their exchange for Palestinian prisoners. “Over the past two months, I’ve been working single-mindedly to achieve the aims of this war — to destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and to bring the hostages home,” Gallant said in a meeting with representatives of the families. “And these two goals are tightly linked. Every day is crucial.”

A day earlier, thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv to call on the government to work to bring back the remaining hostages who are still in Gaza. The protest was marked by two slogans — “Everyone!” and “Now!” — and included for the first time the participation of former hostages. Later on, a smaller group of protesters charged against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatening to launch a sit-in if the Israeli war cabinet does not receive them to explain what they are doing to bring their loved ones back.

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