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Israel instructs additional residents to leave overcrowded southern Gaza as intense bombing moves in that direction

Heavy bombardment was reported overnight into Sunday around Khan Younis and the southern city of Rafah.

Israel’s military ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to evacuate on Sunday, followed by heavy bombardment, as it shifted its offensive to the southern half of the territory where it asserts that leaders of the Hamas terrorist group are hiding.

Palestinians in Gaza said they were running out of places to go. The Gaza Strip, bordering Israel and Egypt, is sealed. Many of the territory’s 2.3 million people are crammed in the south after Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war sparked by the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists. This attack killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, and more than 240 hostages were taken back to the enclave.

Before the latest evacuation orders, United Nations monitors said the areas told to evacuate made up about one-quarter of the territory.

U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk urged an end to the war.

On Sunday, Israel’s military widened evacuation orders in and around Khan Younis, telling residents of at least five more areas and neighborhoods to leave. Residents said the military dropped leaflets ordering them to move south to the border city of Rafah or to a coastal area in the southwest. “Khan Younis city is a dangerous combat zone,” leaflets read.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris also told Egypt’s president that “under no circumstances” would the U.S. permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, an ongoing siege of Gaza, or the redrawing of its borders.

Israel’s military said its fighter jets and helicopters “struck terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including terror tunnel shafts, command centers, and weapons storage facilities” overnight, while a drone killed five Hamas terrorists.

The bodies of 31 people killed in Israeli bombardment across central Gaza were taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, said Omar al-Darawi, a hospital administrative employee. Associated Press video showed bodies in bags outside the hospital as dozens of people held funeral prayers.

The main hospital in Khan Younis received at least three dead and dozens wounded Sunday from an Israeli strike that hit a residential building in the eastern part of the city, according to an AP journalist there.

In northern Gaza, rescue teams with little equipment dug through the rubble of buildings in the Jabaliya urban refugee camp and other Gaza City neighborhoods.

The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza said Sunday the overall death toll in the strip since Oct. 7 had surpassed 15,500. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and the military has used leaflets, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas.

Israel says it targets Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of using them as human shields as they operate in residential neighborhoods. Israel says at least 78 of its soldiers have been killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for the remaining 137 hostages, who are still being held after 105 were freed during the recent truce.

Fears of a wider conflict continued. Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said it struck Israeli positions near the tense Lebanon-Israel border as clashes between the Iran-backed group and Israeli military resumed. Eleven people—eight soldiers and three civilians—were injured from Hezbollah fire in the area of Beit Hillel, army radio reported.

By Najib Jobain, Samy Magdy, and Elena Becatoros

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