The New York Times 2024-07-03 00:10:03


Middle East Crisis: Large Crowds Flee Southern Gaza Areas Under Israeli Evacuation Order

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As Israel prepares to focus on ‘targeted raids,’ it is telling people to leave a large swath of Gaza.

Crowds of Palestinians were fleeing a swath of southern Gaza on Tuesday in response to new evacuation orders in Khan Younis and Rafah, even as Israeli officials indicated the war will soon transition to a lower-intensity stage of “targeted raids.”

Israeli officials say they are closing in on the end of the military offensive in the southern city of Rafah, which had been seen as the last major ground maneuver of the war. But they say Israeli forces will continue to operate in Gaza for the foreseeable future to work to prevent Hamas from reclaiming control.

The trigger for the evacuation orders and overnight Israeli attacks around Khan Younis appeared to be a barrage of roughly 20 rockets that the military said were fired from the area toward Israeli cities by Palestinian militants on Monday. Israeli forces struck back overnight after “enabling civilians to evacuate from the area,” the military said.

The United Nations estimated that roughly 250,000 people would have to flee a large swath of southern Gaza to comply with the Israeli military orders. Scott Anderson, a senior U.N. official, said the calculation was based on prewar population data and anecdotal observations on how many people had returned to the city.

Israeli forces largely withdrew from Khan Younis in April after months of fighting as they geared up to invade Rafah. In the relative calm that followed, many of the city’s residents went back home, some living in tents next to the rubble of their houses.

Suzan Abu Daqqa, 59, returned to her house on the southern outskirts of Khan Younis last month. It was relatively unscarred by the heavy Israeli bombardment that had destroyed large parts of the city, and it still had running water.

But on Monday evening, Ms. Abu Daqqa and her family heard that the Israeli military had yet again ordered the evacuation of the city’s eastern outskirts. The now-familiar sound of artillery fire began, she said, prompting her to flee northwest with relatives.

Thousands of people filled the streets of the demolished city on Monday night as they headed toward the Mawasi area near the coast, which Israel has designated as a “safer zone.”

“How long can we keep being ordered: Leave and come back, leave and come back?” said Ms. Abu Daqqa.

On Tuesday, Khan Younis residents said most of the explosions they could hear appeared to be farther south, in Rafah, indicating that at least for now, the fighting in the city was less intense. The wide-scale evacuation order could potentially herald a larger military operation, though Israeli leaders have said that it would soon be the right time to scale back the ground war.

“We are approaching the end of the stage of the elimination of Hamas’s terrorist army,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. “And we will continue striking at its remnants.”

Over the past several weeks, Israeli forces have conducted smaller attacks across northern Gaza to crack down on a renewed insurgency by Palestinian militants. But those operations — like an ongoing battle in the Shajaiye neighborhood in Gaza City, in the north — have still displaced tens of thousands, according to U.N. officials.

Amid the panic stirred up by the newest order, the European Hospital in Khan Younis, which lies well within the evacuation zone, ferried the majority of its medical staff and roughly 600 patients by ambulance to hospitals deeper into Khan Younis. On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said this was unnecessary, as there had been “no intention to evacuate the European Hospital.”

Many of the doctors and patients there — scarred by previous Israeli raids on Gaza hospitals — were unwilling to take that risk, said Saleh al-Homs, a Gazan doctor who left the facility overnight. Israel says its military operations in hospitals have sought to root out Hamas while minimizing harm to civilians.

“Why did they wait until the hospital was evacuated to issue that statement telling us not to evacuate?” said Dr. al-Homs. “People were terrified and desperate to get out.”

Key Developments

Netanyahu says Israel has nearly eliminated Hamas’s ‘terrorist army,’ 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 that 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.

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.

German Court Fines Far-Right Politician for Using Nazi Phrase, Again

For the second time in seven weeks, a German court has convicted the prominent far-right leader Björn Höcke of using a banned Nazi slogan.

The conviction — at a time when the far right is on the ascent in Europe — is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for Mr. Höcke, the leader of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party in the eastern state of Thuringia.

After a three-day trial, Mr. Höcke was found on Monday to have willfully ignored the ban on using the banned Nazi slogan — “Everything for Germany” — and was fined 16,900 euros, about $18,100, after using the phrase late last year.

The decision came after Mr. Höcke was fined 13,000 euros in mid-May for using the slogan during a 2021 campaign speech.

The judge in the city of Halle found that Mr. Höcke had deliberately directed a crowd of supporters to complete the slogan, which was carved into the knives of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party.

“When I see what is happening in Europe, it is still essential that we counter the danger of old Nazi-era symbols from becoming acceptable again,” Judge Jan Stengel said in delivering his verdict, according to local news reports. Still, the punishment fell short of the suspended prison sentence and a two-year ban on political posts that prosecutors had sought.

Specific phrases, greetings, uniforms, and symbols associated with the Nazis are banned in Germany.

While Mr. Höcke and his lawyers unconvincingly denied knowing of the phrase’s dark past during his first trial in Halle, his defense this time had argued that the phrase should not be banned. And despite a video presented as evidence of Mr. Höcke gesturing to the crowd to complete the phrase, his lawyers also argued that the crowd’s reaction was unexpected.

In his half-hour closing statement, Mr. Höcke, one of the most extreme voices in the far-right party, said the trial was politically motivated and designed to muzzle his political speech. He also called on his party to launch parliamentary investigations into the state justice system.

The AfD made solid gains during elections for the European Parliament, which have no direct consequences on federal or state governments in Germany but are seen as a barometer of the mood in the country. The far-right party won 15.9 percent of the vote across Germany. In the state of Thuringia, where Mr. Höcke leads the party, it garnered 30.7 percent — 7.5 more than its closest mainstream competitor, and the AfD is poised to make significant gains in state elections in September.

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