A Palestinian woman holds her daughter as she walks past the rubble of houses destroyed during the Israeli military offensive, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday.—Reuters
A Palestinian woman holds her daughter as she walks past the rubble of houses destroyed during the Israeli military offensive, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday.—Reuters

• Tanks unleashed on buildings in Rafah
• France, Germany demand probe into attacks on schools
• Latest fighting has displaced 350,000 civilians

GAZA STRIP: Israel’s army dropped thousands of leaflets over war-torn Gaza City on Wednesday, urging all residents to flee a heavy offensive through the main city of the besieged Palestinian territory.

The leaflets, addressed to “everyone in Gaza City”, set out designated escape routes and warned that the urban area, which had a pre-war population of over half a million, would “remain a dangerous combat zone”.

The warning came as Israeli troops, backed by tanks and aircraft, have fought Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters in the heaviest combat the city has seen in months in the war raging since October 7.

In one operation, the army said it had killed fighters and found weapons inside the long-vacated Gaza City headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Elsewhere across Gaza, deadly strikes have hit four schools used as shelters in four days, sparking rebukes from France and Germany which both labelled the attacks “unacceptable”.

“We call for these strikes to be fully investigated,” said the French foreign ministry, highlighting a deadly strike on Tuesday on a school near the southern city of Khan Yunis.

“It is unacceptable that schools, especially those housing civilians displaced by the fighting, should be targeted.”

Heavy fighting also raged in Gaza’s far-southern Rafah, where witnesses told AFP that Israeli tanks had rumbled into the city centre and unleashed intense fire on buildings.

The latest fighting in Gaza has newly displaced 350,000 civilians, said UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, who spoke before the leaflet drop and said “there is absolutely no safe space in Gaza”.

One woman carrying her scant belongings through the ruins, Nimr al-Jamal, told AFP on Tuesday that “this is the 12th time” her family has had to flee. “How many times can we endure this? A thousand times? Where will we end up?”

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement came as talks were to resume in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal to end the war now grinding on into its 10th month.

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea arrived in Doha, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

CIA director William Burns was also expected in the Qatari capital after holding talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, met US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.

Netanyahu “emphasised his commitment” to a proposed truce plan, “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved,” his office said.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2024

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