Israeli warplanes struck targets in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday as the military demanded that more civilians evacuate their homes in the area, signalling 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 October 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 spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said late on 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 on Sunday that Israeli ground troops had not entered the south. But Hamas’ military wing said 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 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, and the Israeli military has said they are intended to move civilians out of harm’s way.
Many Palestinians in Gaza were left confused by the announcements, which were posted on social media in Arabic, accompanied by a map of Gaza that divided the territory into nearly 2,400 zones. On Monday, a spokesperson for the Israeli military posted a map calling on people to move to areas southeast of Khan Younis and in Rafah, on the Egyptian border, which the UN humanitarian office said "are already overcrowded". Further strikes were reported in the Rafah area early on Monday, according to Palestinian news outlets.
The Israeli military advised residents to pay attention to Israeli announcements about whether their zone was being evacuated, but the UNs said it was unclear whether many Palestinians were able to see the online map, given disruptions in electricity and communications.