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Israeli army orders evacuation of large part of Khan Younes

Photo: Jehad Alshrafi Associated Press Palestinian refugees displaced by Israeli bombardments in the Gaza Strip queue for water on Monday at a camp south of Khan Younes.

Mohammad Jahjouh – Associated Press, Samy Magdy – Associated Press, Julia Frankel – Associated Press to Khan Younès

Posted at 5:29 p.m.

  • Middle East

The Israeli army on Monday ordered a mass evacuation of Palestinians from a large part of Khan Yunis, a sign that troops are likely to launch a new ground attack on the second largest city in the Strip. Gaza.

The order suggests that Khan Younes will be the target of the latest of Israel's repeated raids into parts of Gaza it had previously invaded over the past nine months, pursuing Hamas militants as they regroup. Much of Khan Younis was already destroyed in a prolonged assault earlier this year, but large numbers of Palestinians have since returned to escape another Israeli offensive in Gaza's southernmost town, Rafah.

The order comes as Israel released the director of Gaza's main hospital after detaining him for seven months without charge or trial over allegations which the establishment was allegedly used as a Hamas command center. He said he and other detainees were imprisoned in harsh conditions and tortured.

The decision to release Mohammed Abu Salmiya raised questions about Israel's claims about Al-Shifa Hospital, which Israeli forces have attacked twice since the start of the nearly nine-month war with Hamas. Mr. Abu Salmiya and other Palestinian health officials have denied the accusations.

His release sparked an outcry across the Israeli political spectrum. Government ministers and opposition leaders expressed outrage and insisted that Mr Abu Salmiya played a role in Hamas' alleged use of the hospital – although Israeli security services rarely unilaterally release prisoners if they suspect links to militants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office called the release a “serious mistake.”

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  • Israeli operations focus on Gaza and Rafah

An imminent assault on Khan Younes

Monday's evacuation call covered the entire eastern half of Khan Younes and a large part of the southeast of the Gaza Strip. Earlier in the day, the army said a barrage of rockets had been fired from Gaza from Khan Yunis.

The order suggested that a new assault on the city was imminent. Israeli forces fought for weeks in Khan Yunis earlier this year and withdrew, claiming to have destroyed Hamas battalions in the city. But in other places where the army has made similar claims, new raids have underscored Hamas's continuing capabilities.

Last week, the army ordered an evacuation of the Shijaiya district in northern Gaza, where intense fighting has since taken place.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Monday that the army was “doing progress towards the end of the phase of destruction of the Hamas terrorist army”. However, he said the forces would continue to “target their remnants in the future.”

An evacuation and the outbreak of fighting in the Khan Yunis region could further hamper Palestinians' access to much-needed drinking water. The evacuation zone includes a water pipe that Israel installed following criticism of its water cutoff to the territory at the start of its campaign.

Also in the area is the area surrounding the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main aid crossing into southern Gaza, as well as an aid route that Israel said it would protect to allow trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter the besieged strip. Very little aid has entered the Gaza Strip due to lawlessness along the aid route, and a new offensive would risk further harm.

Controversial releases

The decision to release Mr. Abu Salmiya and 54 other Palestinian detainees in Gaza appears to have been taken to free space in overcrowded detention centers.

Israeli forces attacked Al-Shifa Hospital in November, alleging that Hamas had created an elaborate command and control center inside the facility. Mr. Abu Salmiya and other staff denied the allegations and accused Israel of recklessly endangering thousands of patients and displaced people sheltering there. Mr. Abu Salmiya was arrested on November 22.

Amid the outcry over the release of Mr. Abu Salmiya, the various Israeli state organs responsible for detentions were quick to blame each other.

After its first raid on Al-Shifa Hospital, the army discovered a tunnel underneath leading to two empty rooms, as well as evidence that militants had brought injured hostages into the facility. However, the evidence does not support the existence of an extensive base, as was reported before the raid.

Israel has since launched raids on other hospitals in Gaza based on similar allegations, forcing them to close or significantly reduce their services. The army attacked Al-Shifa a second time earlier this year, causing significant destruction after claiming militants had gathered there.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116