Thousands of Palestinians flee amid heavy Israeli attack on Gaza City

<span>Palestinians flee the eastern part of Gaza City after being ordered by the Israeli army to evacuate the area.</span><span>Photograph: Dawoud Abu Alkas/Reuters</span>
Palestinians flee the eastern part of Gaza City after being ordered by the Israeli army to evacuate the area.Photograph: Dawoud Abu Alkas/Reuters

People in Gaza City have reported one of the heaviest attacks by Israeli forces since 7 October, sending thousands of Palestinians fleeing from an area already ravaged in the early weeks of the nine-month-old war.

The latest Israeli incursion into the eastern sector of Gaza City came as Israel’s far-right coalition parties threatened again to stop ongoing negotiations in Qatar for a ceasefire, arguing that halting the fighting now would be a huge mistake.

Sporadic militant activity has hindered Israeli efforts to maintain control in Gaza. Despite claiming authority over the Gaza City area months ago, Israel has had to contend with persistent pockets of resistance, forcing a re-evaluation of its military strategy and redeployment of forces.

Before the recent offensive, the Israeli military said it had issued evacuation orders in the targeted zone.

The territory’s civil emergency service told Reuters it believed that dozens of people had been killed in Gaza City but that teams were unable to reach them because of offensives in a number of areas.

Local sources said Israeli warplanes had bombed a residential apartment near an industrial junction south of Gaza City, killing two citizens and wounding five others. They said a house south of Gaza City was bombed, killing one person and wounding seven others.

“Eyewitnesses said that thousands of citizens were displaced from areas south-west of the city towards the north-west and spent the night on the streets without shelter,” a source said.

Sayeda Abdel-Baki, who was sheltering at her relatives’ home in the Daraj neighbourhood of Gaza City, told Associated Press: “We fled in the darkness amid heavy strikes. This is my fifth displacement.”

Medics at al-Ahli Arab Baptist hospital in Gaza City had to evacuate patients to the already crowded and under-equipped Indonesian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said.

According to an Israeli military statement, Israeli forces were operating “following intelligence indicating the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure, operatives, weapons and investigation and detention rooms, including in the Unrwa headquarters”.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general for Unrwa, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, has previously criticised Hamas and Israel for occupying and using its facilities during the conflict.

Hopes among Gaza residents of a pause in the fighting had revived after Hamas accepted a key part of a US ceasefire proposal, prompting an official in the Israeli negotiating team to say there was a real chance of a deal.

However, the Israeli finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who heads a pro-settler party that is part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said stopping the war now would be a huge mistake.

“Hamas is collapsing and begging for a ceasefire,” Smotrich wrote on X. “This is the time to squeeze the neck until we crush and break the enemy. To stop now, just before the end, and let him recover and fight us again, is a senseless folly.”

Concerns are growing in Israel over the substantial influence wielded by the far-right opponents of a ceasefire deal in the coalition.

Netanyahu is facing criticism from opposition parties, media and families of Israeli hostages, who accuse him of undermining efforts to reach a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages for his own political survival.

On Monday, a senior Hamas official accused Netanyahu of stepping up combat and bombardment in Gaza in order to derail the latest truce effort. “Whenever a round of negotiations begins and a breakthrough is within reach, he disrupts it all and escalates the aggression and massacres against civilians,” the Hamas official told Agence France-Presse.

Netanyahu’s popularity plummeted after the 7 October attack by Hamas, which exposed serious flaws in Israeli security. Most political observers say he would lose elections if they were held now.

This is not the first time that far-right parties within the coalition have interfered with negotiations.

Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst and author of The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel, said: “It’s natural that the far-right parties have influence over Netanyahu’s decisions. They are his coalition partners and they were voted into that position. It would be strange if they didn’t have influence over Netanyahu. In addition, the war cabinet is gone and Netanyahu has a poor relationship with his defence minister and is suspicious of the military establishment. Any influence they have is certainly matched by the partners Netanyahu chose for his government.

“The unusual background is that Netanyahu didn’t really have a choice of coalition partners in 2022 because he had been indicted … So no other parties would join his government. When people elected this government in 2022, they weren’t expecting a war of this magnitude … they didn’t know that they were choosing leaders for this purpose.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office issued a document saying any deal must allow Israel to resume its offensive “until it reaches its war goals”.

The document was heavily criticised by the opposition leader, Yair Lapid, who said: “What good does this do? We are at a crucial moment in the negotiations, the lives of the hostages depends on this. Why make such taunting announcements? How does this help the process?”

AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this report