The New York Times 2024-07-02 18:29:50

Middle East Crisis: Israeli Military Orders Evacuations in Southeastern Gaza

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Israeli forces said they fired at areas from which a rocket barrage had been launched a day earlier.

Israeli forces struck southern Gaza overnight, targeting areas of Khan Younis from which rockets had been launched at Israel a day earlier, the military said on Tuesday.

The strikes came after the Israeli military ordered new evacuations of eastern Khan Younis and the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Such orders are usually an indication that the military plans a ground assault, but the military did not say on Tuesday whether it would send troops into Khan Younis, an area its forces invaded earlier in the war but had vacated.

An evacuation announcement posted late Monday on social media by the Israeli military’s spokesman for Arab media, Avichay Adraee, said that people in the designated areas “must evacuate immediately” for their safety. That area includes the European Gaza Hospital, leading scores of patients and medical staff there to flee.

Doctors at the hospital, near Khan Younis, said overnight on Monday that they had also received orders to evacuate. The Israeli military said in a statement on Tuesday morning that it had “no intention to evacuate the European Hospital.”

Large swaths of Khan Younis were leveled during an extended assault at the beginning of the year, after which Israeli forces withdrew, claiming to have destroyed the Hamas battalions there. But Israeli commanders have repeatedly sent troops back into areas they had supposedly secured to put down resurgent pockets of Hamas fighters.

The evacuation order was announced after the Israeli military reported that at least 20 rockets were fired from southern Gaza toward Israel and said it had fired artillery in response, striking the sources of the launches.

Most of Gaza’s population of some 2.2 million has been displaced over the course of the war; many people have been forced to flee repeatedly under evacuation orders or to escape fighting.

The United Nations condemned Monday’s evacuation order. “It shows yet again that no place is safe in Gaza,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary general, told reporters in New York, adding that the announcement underscored the need for a cease-fire. “It is another stop in this deadly circular movement that the population of Gaza has to undergo on a regular basis,” he added.

Dr. Mohammed Harara, an emergency doctor at the European Gaza Hospital, shared videos with The New York Times on Monday that showed wounded patients at the hospital being transferred to stretchers and others being wheeled out, with rooms in disarray from the hurried evacuations. He estimated that there had been about 600 patients at the hospital and said he was still there, working on the evacuations.

In a message sent in the early hours of Tuesday, Dr. Harara said he could hear bombing very close by and that injured patients were arriving at the hospital, despite the evacuation order.

A doctor at Nasser Hospital, about six miles away, reported “mass chaos” and fistfights at its emergency room as ambulances arrived with patients from European Gaza Hospital, who had to vie for care with incoming patients from the area.

The doctor, Hina Cheema, a Pakistani American on a humanitarian mission at Nasser, said that the evacuations were complicated because roads in the area had been mostly destroyed and were now crowded with people fleeing, and that unstable patients risked death during transport. The drive from European Gaza Hospital to Nasser takes about 30 minutes in the current conditions, both she and Dr. Harara said.

There were about 300 to 400 beds at European Gaza Hospital, said Shéhérazade Kaoues, a spokeswoman for FAJR Scientific, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that has been organizing humanitarian medical missions to Gaza. But many more patients and displaced people were sheltering there before the evacuation order came, she said.

Ms. Kaoues said her organization had three foreign medical volunteers at European Gaza, but that all had been evacuated to a safe house.

In May, a group of about 16 international health care workers were stranded at European Gaza Hospital for roughly two weeks after Israel seized the Rafah border crossing near Egypt. At the time, there were no evacuation orders for the hospital, said Adam Hamawy, an American doctor at the hospital at the time. He wrote to President Biden about the dire peril in Gaza, saying that no one was safe, including civilians and humanitarian workers.

One of the medical workers who had been stranded at European Gaza in May, Dr. Mohammed Tahir, is an orthopedic and peripheral nerve surgeon from Britain who is now on his second medical mission with Fajr Scientific at the European Gaza Hospital. On Monday, he said he had evacuated to a safe house. In a video message posted on social media and shared with The Times, he said, “My feelings are that of disbelief, heartbreak, sadness. I literally left my patients back in the E.G.H. I don’t know who is going to look after them.”

He described working on patients with complicated injuries before his evacuation, including bone infections, and said he was uncertain of their fates. “These people will become sick very quickly and possibly even die within a matter of days,” he said.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

Key Developments

Netanyahu says Israel will continue to strike at ‘remnants’ of Hamas, and other news.

  • The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Monday that his country’s forces were “advancing toward the final stage of eliminating” Hamas’s “terrorist army,” though he added Israel would still have to continue to “strike its remnants.” Mr. Netanyahu’s comments, made to cadets at Israel’s National Defense College, were the latest sign that his government intends to wind down major military operations against Hamas in Gaza in the near future and shift the military’s focus to the cross-border conflict with Hezbollah in Israel’s north.

  • The Israeli military said seven “projectiles” launched from Lebanon on Monday fell in three Israeli farming communities along the northern border but there were no injuries reported. The military said that the Israeli Air Force had struck five targets in southern Lebanon on Monday that it characterized as “terrorist infrastructure” sites or military compounds.

  • Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets of Jerusalem on Sunday to protest conscription, days after a landmark Israeli Supreme Court ruling ordering the military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men who have traditionally been exempt. The Israeli police said in a statement that the protesters threw stones and objects, with one officer lightly injured in the clashes. A police video showed protesters swarming the car of a government minister. Israeli news media reported that the vehicle belonged to Israel’s housing minister, Yitzhak Goldknopf, the leader of the United Torah Judaism party, who has opposed drafting the ultra-Orthodox. The police said five people were arrested.

Israeli officials exchange barbs amid an uproar over the release of Al-Shifa hospital’s director.

The release on Monday of the director of Gaza’s largest hospital, who was held in Israeli detention for more than seven months without charges, was welcomed by Palestinian and rights groups but set off an uproar across the Israeli political spectrum and exposed growing tensions among officials in the government.

Mohammad Abu Salmiya directed Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, an early focus of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. He was taken into custody in late November while traveling with a U.N. convoy of ambulances evacuating patients from the hospital to southern Gaza, and was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, according to the Gaza health ministry and the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The Israeli military later publicized some evidence to support its case that Hamas operated from within the Shifa complex, including by showing reporters a fortified tunnel constructed underneath its grounds. An investigation by The New York Times suggested that Hamas had used the site for cover and stored weapons there.

Dr. Abu Salmiya’s release appeared to stun Israeli officials. Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right minister charged with national security, called the doctor’s release “security negligence,” and blamed Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and the chief of the intelligence agency Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, for policies that he said contradicted the government’s decisions.

Mr. Gallant’s office deflected responsibility, issuing a statement saying the release of detainees is “not subject to approval of the Minister of Defense.” The Israeli Prison Service said in a statement that the decision had been made by the Israeli military and the Shin Bet, but the military said Dr. Abu Salmiya had not been in its custody.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from the decision. In a statement on Monday, he called the release of the hospital director “an egregious error and a moral failure,” saying that he and other key authorities were not informed and that whoever is responsible should themselves be incarcerated.

Seeking to quell the growing outrage, Mr. Netanyahu said he was looking into the decision and expected answers from Mr. Bar of the Shin Bet late on Monday. He also said he would set up a team of security and military officials to vet detainees before release.

Benny Gantz, a centrist minister who resigned from the war cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in June, suggested to Mr. Netanyahu in a statement on Monday, “Prime Minister, if you close some government offices. I am sure that space and funds will be freed up for jails.”

Mr. Gantz took the opportunity to call for elections, yet again.

On Monday, at a news conference in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, a visibly frail Dr. Abu Salmiya said that nearly 50 other Palestinian detainees, including other doctors and health ministry staff members, had also been released and returned to Gaza.

“We were subjected to extreme torture,” Dr. Abu Salmiya said. He said he had been beaten over the head repeatedly and that his finger had been broken.

Human rights groups have said that Dr. Abu Salmiya’s prolonged detention without charges is an example of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners, and his release comes as the Israeli Supreme Court is weighing a petition demanding the closure of an army barracks turned jail, Sde Teiman, where thousands of Gazans have been detained since the war started last year.

It was not immediately clear if Dr. Abu Salmiya had previously been held at Sde Teiman. He was released from another prison, Nafha, according to the Israeli Prison Service.

However, a statement from Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, referred to the controversy surrounding Sde Teiman in a statement on Monday explaining the doctor’s release. The statement noted that a decision had been made to hold detainees at Sde Teiman for only short periods of time, and said that made it necessary “to release dozens of detainees in order to clear places of incarceration.” The statement said that the Shin Bet had warned elected officials “in every possible forum” that it needed more space “in view of the need to arrest terrorists.”

The health ministry in Gaza called for the release of all other detained medical workers from Gaza who were “arrested and abused simply because they were treating the sick and wounded.”

At least 310 medical workers in Gaza have been detained by Israeli forces since the start of the war, but did not specify how many had been released, the ministry said.

Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

Here’s what we know about Palestinians detained in Israel.

When Israel released the director of Gaza’s largest hospital on Monday after seven months in detention, he immediately called attention to the many other Palestinians who were still imprisoned.

“We left behind thousands who are enduring indescribable suffering,” the director of Al-Shifa Hospital, Mohammed Abu Salmiya, told reporters at a news conference in southern Gaza.

More than 9,600 Palestinians detained under Israel’s military and national security laws are being held in Israeli prisons, the highest figure in more than a decade, according to HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group. It says many of the detainees are being held without charges and have been abused while in custody.

The number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons has swelled since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. Israeli troops have arrested hundreds of people in Gaza as they search for fighters, the military says, while security forces in the occupied West Bank have conducted a crackdown that they say is intended to root out militants.

Rights groups say that the arrests are often arbitrary and that the conditions in which Palestinians are held can be inhumane. Israel says the imprisoned Palestinians — who include avowed senior militants convicted of brutal attacks — are treated in accordance with international standards.

Of about 4,000 people detained from Gaza since Oct. 7, 1,500 have been released back to the enclave, according to Tal Steiner, who directs the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a rights group.

Most Gazans captured since the start of the war have been brought to Sde Teiman, an army base in southern Israel, for initial interrogation, according to the Israeli military. The military allowed The New York Times to briefly see part of the detention facility there in May. During that visit, reporters saw men sitting in rows inside a hangar, handcuffed and blindfolded, barred from talking more loudly than a murmur and forbidden to stand or sleep except when authorized.

An investigation by The Times found that at least 1,200 Gazan civilians had been held at Sde Teiman in demeaning conditions, without the ability to plead their cases to a judge for up to 75 days. Eight former detainees, all of whom the military has confirmed were held at the site, variously said they had been punched, kicked and beaten with batons, rifle butts and a hand-held metal detector while in custody. Three said they had received electric shocks during their interrogations.

In a statement in May, the military denied that “systematic abuse” had taken place at Sde Teiman. Presented with individual allegations of abuse, the military said the claims were “evidently inaccurate or completely unfounded.”

In response to questions about Dr. Abu Salmiya’s claims on Monday that he and others had been tortured, the Israeli Prison Service said in a statement that it was not aware of the claims, and that “all prisoners are detained according to the law.”

Patrick Kingsley, Bilal Shbair and Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting.

As the U.N.’s relief chief steps down, Gaza’s aid woes are piling up.

The United Nations’ top relief official, Martin Griffiths, stepped down on Sunday, adding another layer of uncertainty to struggling efforts to get food, fuel and other supplies into Gaza, where almost nine months of war have brought an array of dire threats to the civilian population, including catastrophic hunger.

The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, has not named a permanent replacement for Mr. Griffiths, whose departure from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for health reasons, was announced in March.

“To my fellow humanitarians, it’s been my honor to lead you, represent you and learn from you,” Mr. Griffiths wrote in a post on social media on Sunday. “Yours is one of the most important jobs in the world: bringing hope, compassion, survival and humanity to people in their darkest hour.”

However, the relief efforts in Gaza have fallen far short of the needs of the sealed, densely populated enclave in which the majority of the population of some 2.2 million has been displaced. In May, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing after a Hamas attack killed four soldiers in the area, then mounted an incursion that closed the Rafah crossing along the border with Egypt. U.N. officials said this effectively choked off the two main arteries for aid.

For most of the last month, aid deliveries within Gaza have slowed to a near halt. Hopes to revive them via a temporary pier built by the United States have largely been thwarted, partly by weather conditions that have more than once forced the pier to be moved from Gaza’s coast, and partly by the difficulty of distributing the aid once it arrives.

The U.N.’s main agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, earlier this month said that Gaza had become the deadliest place in the world for aid workers, with at least 250 killed since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel sparked the war in Gaza and a humanitarian crisis. U.N. aid agencies have demanded that the Israeli authorities do more to protect aid workers in the Gaza Strip and ensure that assistance reaches those who need it, Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said on Tuesday.

On Friday, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, said that the temporary pier had been removed again ahead of sea turbulence, while indicating that the backlog of aid was taking up so much space that re-establishing the pier might not be a top priority.

Days earlier, in a social media post directed at the World Food Program, a U.N. agency that coordinates much of the humanitarian work in the enclave, the Israeli agency overseeing aid in Gaza displayed a photo of supplies that it said were waiting at the pier’s offloading area. “Stop making excuses and start playing your role as a humanitarian food organization and the head of the logistic cluster,” it said.

The World Food Program suspended operations near the pier earlier this month. The program’s officials said some of its facilities were hit during an Israeli mission that rescued four hostages but involved strikes that killed scores of Palestinians, including women and children.

In his last week as U.N. relief chief, Mr. Griffiths addressed concerns that the suspension might forecast the halt of all aid groups’ operations in Gaza. “We’re not running away from Gaza at all,” Mr. Griffiths said in an interview on Wednesday. But he added, “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in Gaza, and it is becoming more and more difficult to operate.”

On Sunday, a World Food Program spokeswoman confirmed that the organization’s suspension of operations at the pier remained in place, pending a security review by the U.N.’s safety and security arm, but said that the aid group had made arrangements to start clearing the backlog of undelivered aid and that it would “be distributed immediately.”

Anjana Sankar contributed reporting.

The Center Collapses in France, Leaving Macron Marooned

An era has ended in France.

The seven-year domination of national politics by President Emmanuel Macron was laid to rest by his party’s overwhelming defeat in the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. Not only did he dissolve Parliament by calling a snap vote, he effectively dissolved the centrist movement known as “Macronism.”

The far-right National Rally, in winning a third of the vote, did not guarantee that it will win an absolute majority in a runoff six days from now, although it will likely get close. But Mr. Macron, risking all by calling the election, did end up guaranteeing that he will be marginalized, with perhaps no more than a third of the seats his party now holds.

“The decision to dissolve the National Assembly has, in fact, put an end to the political configuration that emerged from the presidential election of 2017,” said Édouard Philippe, one of Mr. Macron’s former prime ministers.

In 2017, Mr. Macron, then 39, swept to power, eviscerating the center-right Gaullists and the center-left socialists, the pillars of postwar France, in the name of a 21st-century realignment around a pragmatic center. It worked for a while, but increasingly, as Mr. Macron failed to form a credible moderate political party, the result has been one man and a shrinking circle of allies standing against the extremes of right and left.

That stand, which sometimes served Mr. Macron well, has now collapsed in one of the more conspicuous self-inflicted debacles in recent European politics.

Mr. Macron did not have to call an election just weeks before the Paris Olympics, even though the National Rally trounced him in European parliamentary elections. It is a measure of the desperate straits of France today that a meager victory for Mr. Macron would now be defined as keeping the National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, from an absolute majority in the National Assembly, even if the price of that is ungovernable chaos.

“They’re done,” Luc Rouban, a senior research fellow at Sciences Po University in Paris, said of Mr. Macron’s centrist movement. “I do not see any margin of maneuver for them.”

France, unlike Italy or Belgium, has no culture of living in limbo without an appointed government for long periods. But that possibility now looms.

If the National Rally wins an absolute majority, Mr. Macron will almost certainly have to live with Jordan Bardella, 28, Ms. Le Pen’s protégé, as his prime minister since that party would move to topple anyone else. But Mr. Macron and Mr. Bardella — with opposing viewpoints — would find themselves in an uncomfortable partnership.

If there is no such National Rally majority, Mr. Macron will be faced with a very large far-right group, and a large left and extreme-left alliance in the Assembly, all viscerally opposed to him. It is unclear how he would form a governing coalition. The only possibility might be some form of caretaker government headed by technocrats pending a further dissolution of the Assembly a year from now, when the Constitution would allow it again.

The National Rally and its allies qualified for the second round of voting in over 480 districts and were in the lead or directly elected in 297 of those, according to an analysis of the results by Franceinfo. Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition, by contrast, is poised to lose many of the 250 seats it had held since 2022, qualifying for the runoff in 319 districts and leading or being directly elected in just 69 of them. A party needs 289 seats to hold an absolute majority in the Assembly.

Mr. Macron’s Renaissance party urged its candidates to pull out of some constituency races where they finished in third place in the first round. The goal is to avoid splitting the vote and so prevent the far right from winning an absolute majority.

But, in yet another sign of division, some centrists were reluctant to do so in favor of the left because of what they see as a catastrophic economic program and remarks from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far left leader whose passionate support of the Palestinian cause has appeared more than once to cross a line into antisemitism.

“Nobody chose this dissolution,” Gabriel Attal, the outgoing prime minister who was once a favorite of Mr. Macron, said pointedly on Monday. “But I refuse that we be its victims.”

Mr. Macron, who is term-limited and must leave office in 2027, will remain as president and, if Mr. Bardella becomes prime minister, will no doubt portray himself as the surviving rampart against a far-right that sees immigrants as second-class.

But his authority on domestic policy will be limited and his voice on the international stage, traditionally the exclusive domain of French presidents, will be diminished, particularly with respect to the European Union, where the euro-skeptic National Rally will do what it can to return power from Brussels to the nation. Mr. Macron has been a fierce advocate of what he calls “Europe power.”

It was striking that both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Bardella chose to make their victory speeches Sunday against the backdrop of the French flag, without the blue and gold European Union flag that hangs from every city hall and government office in France, including the Hôtel de Matignon, residence of the prime minister, and the president’s Élysée Palace. The message that international priorities are shifting was unmistakable.

So why did Mr. Macron call for the election?

It seems clear that he miscalculated, particularly with respect to the left, which he thought would splinter between moderate socialists and Mr. Mélenchon’s France Unbowed, increasing the chances that his own party would qualify for the second round. That fracture never happened. Rather, the New Popular Front coalition of those left-wing parties won 27.99 percent of the vote to Mr. Macron’s 20.04 percent and secured a place in many more runoffs.

A second miscalculation was that Mr. Macron believed he could still be a unifying figure when animosity toward him has grown steadily over his seven-year presidency. He wanted to embody the Republic and its values against the extremes. Too few voters were ready to buy that.

They appear, instead, to have felt alienated by his perceived aloofness and highly personalized rule, typified by the shock decision to call the election. The longtime taboo against the National Rally no longer counted.

“This was a personal rejection,” said Jacques Rupnik, a political scientist. “People no longer want Macron bringing them together.”

If true, as it appears to be, that would constitute a heavy blow to Mr. Macron. A highly intelligent man, with a ready wink and charm, he has always seen himself as able to persuade anyone, from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, to agree with him. It did not always work, but his bold determination to break political barriers never abated.

He talked to Mr. Putin for months after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2022, when almost nobody else in the West would. This year, he would not rule out putting western troops on the ground in Ukraine, when almost everyone, led by President Biden, refused the idea. He declared that Europe faced “death” if it did not begin to emancipate itself from the United States, when plenty of other European states thought putting distance between the allies would be the death knell. Finally, advised by a tiny coterie, he called this election to the astonishment of many of his own ministers, who saw in it an almost suicidal move.

“The Macron thinking went that the house will burn down in three years,” said Nicole Bacharan, an author and political scientist, referring to the possibility that Ms. Le Pen would be elected in the 2027 presidential election. “So let’s burn it down now. Then we will see.”

France is a country of strong institutions and deep democratic traditions underwritten by the rule of law. It does not, and will not, burn easily. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a nuclear power, it commands an important place in international affairs that will persist, even if its domestic travails impinge to some degree on that.

Its economy, in part because of Mr. Macron’s policies, has drawn enormous foreign investment in recent years, and unemployment has decreased. Even if the national debt and the budget deficit have risen to levels that have alarmed both the European Commission and ratings agencies, its economic vitality seems greater than a troubled Germany’s. Nobody driving through France sees a country on the brink.

Yet Mr. Macron has ushered France to a dangerous watershed. There was a reason a political barrier was long erected against the National Rally, with its quasi fascist history (now disavowed) and its enduring belief that immigrants dilute the essence of the French nation. The party provokes extreme reactions and troubled memories of the collaborationist wartime Vichy government.

Many members of France’s large Muslim minority, estimated at some five million people, are fearful of rule by the National Rally. In general, a feeling of profound uncertainty has settled over France.

“Burning a house is dangerous,” Ms. Bacharan said, “and Mr. Macron should have known that.”

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