The New York Times 2024-07-03 06:10:11

Middle East Crisis: Evacuation Order Brings New Chaos to Southeastern Gaza


‘Everything is difficult here’: Gazans describe the struggle of yet another evacuation.

It has become a familiar, and grim, routine: Trucks and cars loaded down with possessions. People pushed in wheel chairs or riding in donkey carts. A mad scramble for any transportation at all.

Some of the thousands of displaced Palestinians evacuating a large swath of southern Gaza described a strenuous journey in the heat for new places to shelter on Tuesday — and the harsh conditions they met when they eventually reached them.

It was not clear just how many people were subject to Israel’s order to flee from Khan Younis and Rafah, but the United Nations estimated the number at 250,000. Witnesses described large numbers of people fleeing.

Within the evacuation zone was the European Hospital in Khan Younis, which has served as a shelter for many people who have evacuated other areas. It ferried the majority of its medical staff and roughly 600 patients by ambulance to other hospitals.

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said it was unnecessary to leave the hospital, but many of the doctors and patients — 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 has said its military operations at 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.”

Jamal Azzam, a nurse who had been sheltering at European Hospital for six months, said that shelling had been intensifying since Monday night. When the evacuation began, he had to find his own route out and struggled to get a ride for his three children and their mattresses, clothes, water, canned food and a sack of flour.

He eventually found a free bus to take him to a spot packed with other displaced people. But that is where his luck appeared to diminish. At the hospital, the family had access to electricity and drinkable water, but they were now sweltering in a tent without power, access to drinking water or toilets.

“Everything is difficult here,” Mr. Azzam said. “The drinkable water I took with me is almost out, and I don’t know how I could get more,” he added.

Khaled Shurrab, 34, who had evacuated to Khan Younis just four days before, described a parade of people walking, or running, down the main coastal highway through the Gaza Strip. Others, he said had managed to get on trucks from the hospital.

He described trucks and cars stacked with people’s possessions, including water tanks, cooking gas cylinders, firewood and plastic sheeting. Some patients who were able to leave the hospital on their own were pushed in wheelchairs or in horse-drawn carriages, he added.

“It was really an indescribable, tough and harsh situation for me and my family,” Mr. Shurrab said, adding that evacuating was “beyond any word or any feeling. ”

Mr. Shurrab said that he had tried to hire a driver to evacuate him and his 17 family members back to Al-Mawasi, a coastal area where they had earlier been sheltering. He said he called more than 10 drivers to no avail. Two asked for as much as $350 to drive them less than five miles, he said.

“We had to pack everything back up,” he added. The family put up tents and built a makeshift toilet and water pipe on a beach in Khan Younis.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

Key Developments

A U.N. official says about 80 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and other news.

  • A top U.N. official said on Tuesday that 1.9 million people have been displaced by the war in Gaza, or about 80 percent the prewar population in the densely populated strip. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, told the Security Council that she was deeply concerned about a new evacuation order this week in parts of Khan Younis and Rafah. She said the volume of aid entering Gaza had “dropped significantly” since the start of the Israeli ground operation in Rafah in early May, which closed the border crossing with Egypt. “Palestinian civilians in Gaza have been plunged into an abyss of suffering — their home lives shattered, their lives upended,” she said.

  • Israel has established a new power line to supply electricity to a desalination plant in Khan Younis, Gaza, allowing it to provide up to 20,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, the Israeli military said on Tuesday. Elad Goren, a senior Israeli military official, said that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority would pay for the electricity and that UNICEF, a United Nations agency, would manage the plant. Pressure has been mounting on Israel to improve the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israel’s nearly nine month military offensive has devastated large swathes of the enclave and has dismantled much of Hamas’s government. Finding enough food and clean water to survive is a daily struggle for many Gazans.

  • 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.

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 southeastern Gaza on Tuesday, after Israel issued a warning to evacuate large parts of the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah and struck several targets in southern Gaza overnight.

The evacuation order on Monday and a heavy night of strikes came despite recent statements from Israeli commanders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to wind down major ground operations and shift to lower-intensity stage of targeted raids.

Israeli officials have said in recent days that they are close to ending the military offensive in the southern city of Rafah, which had been seen as the last major ground maneuver of the war. But they have also said that Israeli forces will continue to operate in Gaza for the foreseeable future to stamp out pockets of resistance and prevent Hamas from reclaiming control.

For many Gazans who have been forced to flee again and again, the situation on the ground may not change much. Israeli forces have repeatedly returned to conduct days-long operations in neighborhoods they already conquered during the initial offensive in an effort to crack down on renewed insurgencies by Palestinian militants.

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.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said an evacuation at such a scale will only heighten the suffering of civilians who are facing food and water shortages. “People are left with the impossible choice of having to relocate, some most likely for the second or even the third time, to areas that have barely any spaces or services, or staying in areas where they know heavy fighting will take place,” he said.

For Gazans, recent operations intended to root out resurgent pockets of Hamas fighters have been far from low-intensity. Hundreds of Palestinian fighters were killed in fighting in areas of northern Gaza such as Shajaiye, Jabaliya and Zeitoun, according to the Israeli military. In Jabaliya, over 60,000 people fled their homes, according to the United Nations, returning to find widespread devastation.

Israeli forces largely withdrew from Khan Younis in April after months of fighting as they were gearing up to invade Rafah farther south. 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 unscathed 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 their city was less intense. The wide-scale evacuation order, however, could potentially herald a renewed military operation there.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli brigadier general, said Israeli troops would seek to slowly whittle away at Hamas’s remaining fighters in the area, a process he said could take years. Over time, Israel hopes to erode Hamas’s forces so thoroughly that Gaza will take fewer and fewer forces to control, he said.

“Every time the terrorists manage to constitute themselves, there will be a raid to deal with them,” said General Avivi, who leads the hawkish Israel Defense and Security Forum. “These raids can last a few days or a week at a time — generally no more than a few days — and then you withdraw.”

General Avivi said for many Gazans, it would likely seem very similar to the current Israeli military campaign in the north.

“It won’t feel any different, save for perhaps in the forces applied and the number of troops,” he said.

Blinken says Israel ‘has effectively lost sovereignty’ along its northern border.

Israel “has effectively lost sovereignty” in its north because Hezbollah attacks launched from southern Lebanon have driven much of the population away, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said this week, underscoring the stakes of cross-border attacks that have threatened to ignite a larger regional war alongside the conflict in Gaza.

Mr. Blinken spoke ahead of a trip by a senior White House official, Amos Hochstein, for talks in Paris on how to defuse the escalating border fire between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Mr. Hochstein, the top White House official for global energy and infrastructure, has become President Biden’s de facto envoy in the quest to resolve the border conflict.

Mr. Hochstein’s plan to meet with French officials was confirmed by a person close to the talks, who spoke on the condition on anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy. Lebanon was a French protectorate after the World War I; France still has some influence there and has offered proposals to halt the fighting. The White House had no immediate comment.

U.S. officials have worked for months to prevent a war between Israel and Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and has launched rocket attacks on northern Israel in solidarity with Hamas, the armed group that governed Gaza and started the current war when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Fears of a full-scale, open war between Israel and Hezbollah have grown in recent weeks as exchanges of cross-border fire have intensified. Israeli officials have spoken publicly of shifting their military focus from Hamas to Hezbollah, a far more advanced and potent military threat.

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote on X, there was still time for the key players to find a diplomatic solution. Mr. Hochstein ’s trip, he said, would likely happen on Wednesday. “The window for diplomacy is closing but not closed,” he said.

Mr. Blinken, speaking on Monday at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., that he did not believe that the key actors in the border conflict — Israel, Hezbollah and Iran — actually wanted to go to war, but that that’s what the “momentum” of the clashes could lead. U.S. officials fear that such a conflict could force the United States to come to Israel’s defense.

“No one actually wants a war,” Mr. Blinken said. He said that Iran, a determined foe of Israel, “wants to make sure that Hezbollah’s not destroyed and that it can hold onto Hezbollah as a card if it needs it, if it ever gets into a direct conflict with Israel.”

Some 60,000 Israelis have fled the area of the border clashes, many of whom have been living in Tel Aviv hotels for nine months. Referring to that situation, Mr. Blinken said that “Israel has effectively lost sovereignty in the northern quadrant of its country because people don’t feel safe to go to their homes.” The fighting has also displaced tens of thousands of people from southern Lebanon.

“Absent doing something about the insecurity, people won’t have the confidence to go back,” Mr. Blinken said. Resolving the issue, he added, will require an agreement to pull back forces from the border.

Mr. Blinken noted that Hezbollah has said that if a cease-fire were reached in Gaza, it would stop firing into Israel. That “underscores why a cease-fire in Gaza is so critical,” he said. But the latest round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas appear deadlocked.

Mr. Hochstein has met in recent weeks with Israeli officials and also with Lebanese officials, who can pass messages to and from Hezbollah, in an effort to negotiate a Hezbollah pullback to a position far enough from the border to satisfy Israel. In return, Israel might withdraw from some disputed border areas, and the U.S. could provide economic assistance for southern Lebanon, analysts say.

Stampede at Religious Gathering in India Kills More Than 100

More than 100 people were killed on Tuesday and many others were injured in a stampede during a Hindu religious event in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where thousands of devotees had gathered.

Most of the dead so far have been women and children who appeared to have suffocated in a crush, in the Hathras district, said Ashish Kumar, the district magistrate there.

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U.N. Panel Adds to Chorus Calling for Release of Evan Gershkovich

Russia arbitrarily arrested the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to punish him for his reporting on the war in Ukraine, a United Nations panel said in a statement released on Tuesday, adding to a chorus of public condemnation of his continued detention.

In its statement, adopted in March but released on Tuesday, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said that Mr. Gershkovich, who appeared in a secret court hearing last week to face an espionage charge that he denies, must be released immediately.

“Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest was conducted under the pretextual label of espionage but was in fact designed to punish his reporting on the armed conflict” between Russia and Ukraine, the group said. It said that it had requested that Russia “clarify the legal provisions justifying” Mr. Gershkovich’s detention but that it did not receive a response.

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Hurricane Roars Through the Caribbean

Hurricane Beryl, a powerful storm that made landfall Monday as a Category 4, has been barreling through the Caribbean, killing at least four people, destroying houses and snapping trees in half.

The hurricane first hit Carriacou, a small island north of Grenada, on Monday morning where it flattened the island in just half an hour, while also causing extreme damage to neighboring Petite Martinique. Rescue crews departed Grenada on Tuesday morning to deliver supplies to both islands and assess the destruction.

Carriacou is known for its coral reefs and diving spots, while on Petite Martinique is most people work fishing or building boats. The two islands have a combined population of roughly 6,000, according to government data.

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Swedish Grandparents Can Be Paid to Babysit Under New Law

Swedish grandparents became eligible for paid parental leave this week after the country enacted a trailblazing new law aimed at extending child care benefits beyond a child’s immediate family.

Under the change, which took effect Monday, parents are able to transfer a portion of their parental leave days to other caretakers, cementing Sweden’s reputation as a global trendsetter in progressive parental leave policies.

The law enables single parents to transfer up to 90 days of paid leave to other caregivers and a parental couple to transfer up to 45 days, according to the Swedish government’s Social Insurance Agency.

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U.K. Nurse Lucy Letby Convicted of Attempted Murder in Retrial

Lucy Letby, a neonatal nurse who was convicted last year of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others at the English hospital where she worked, was found guilty on Tuesday of the attempted murder of another premature baby.

A jury had initially failed to reach a verdict in the case of the child, known as Baby K to protect her identity, and Ms. Letby was retried over the last four weeks in a court in Manchester in the north of England. She will be sentenced on Friday and is already serving life in prison for the earlier convictions. The yearslong case against Ms. Letby has haunted the country since suspicions around the deaths of a number of newborn babies first came to light in 2016.

The local police said they are still reviewing a period of time from 2012 to 2016 when Ms. Letby was working at the Countess of Chester Hospital in the city of Chester, in northwestern England.

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Israeli Generals, Low on Munitions, Want a Truce in Gaza

Israel’s top generals want to begin a cease-fire in Gaza even if it keeps Hamas in power for the time being, widening a rift between the military and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has opposed a truce that would allow Hamas to survive the war.

The generals think that a truce would be the best way of freeing the roughly 120 Israelis still held, both dead and alive, in Gaza, according to interviews with six current and former security officials.

Underequipped for further fighting after Israel’s longest war in decades, the generals also think their forces need time to recuperate in case a land war breaks out against Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that has been locked in a low-level fight with Israel since October, multiple officials said.

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