The New York Times 2024-07-10 04:10:00

Middle East Crisis: Residents Flee as Israeli Troops Push Deeper Into Gaza City


Gaza City quieted down months ago, but its residents are now under fire again.

When the Israeli military started scaling back its campaign in Gaza City early this year, the city’s residents thought the worst was over, and some soon moved back to its shattered blocks from other parts of Gaza.

Now, a new Israeli ground offensive is expanding into large areas of the city and people are fleeing once again, with even fewer options for refuge than before.

The Israeli military reported Tuesday that it was pressing on for a second day into neighborhoods in the center and west of the city, targeting areas where it says Hamas militants have re-established themselves in the months since it turned its focus to other parts of Gaza.

The pattern has repeated itself across the territory, as critics say Israel has done little to fill the power vacuum left behind when its troops move on. The latest raid was coupled with evacuation orders for several neighborhoods in the city and areas west of it, and crowds of people were scrambling to get out.

Zainab al-Khaldi, a lawyer and researcher with UNICEF who was working at a school-turned-shelter in Al-Daraj, one of the areas that the Israeli military moved into on Monday, described a frantic effort to figure out which way to go after the shelter where she was staying came under artillery fire with no warning on Monday evening.

“People went crazy and started running in all directions,” she said in a phone interview. Ms. al-Khaldi said she saw more than 20 people who were wounded by the shelling, “and no one could reach them to help.”

The military was already conducting a separate operation in the city, in the Shajaiye neighborhood in the east, which entered its 12th day on Tuesday. The Israeli military said it was “engaged in close-quarters combat” above and below ground with Palestinian militants. It said it had killed more than 150 militants in Shajaiye and “located tunnel shafts and significant tunnel routes.” The United Nations office of humanitarian affairs said 60,000 to 80,000 people were displaced on the first night of that raid.

About 20 minutes after the shelter in Al-Daraj was hit, Ms. al-Khaldi said she and others there started getting text messages and automated phone calls from the Israeli military instructing them to evacuate to the west. People started to do so, but many felt trapped as fighting raged in several areas nearby.

“If we wanted to go east to Shajaiye, there’s bombing,” she said. “If we wanted to go toward Al-Ahli Hospital there’s bombing,” describing a facility where people have been sheltering in central Gaza City.

“There was danger in all places,” she said.

Ms. al-Khaldi and a crowd of others headed west “under an insane amount of fire from quadcopters,” she said, before she was able to find shelter in the home of some she knows.

“This was not our first displacement and it will not be our last,” she said.

Humanitarian groups have condemned the new Israeli incursions and evacuation orders. The U.N. Human Rights Office said in a statement on Monday that it was “appalled” by the orders issued to Gaza City residents, “many of whom have been forcibly displaced multiple times.” It said the orders were confusing and often told people to move to combat areas.

The main U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said in a post on X that the displacements meant that “people have to move back to destroyed areas despite the threat of unexploded ordnance.”

Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, reported that dozens of Palestinians were killed and wounded in the neighborhoods of Al-Daraj, Al-Tuffah and the Old City amid intense Israeli bombardment. The agency added that Israeli attacks had also targeted Deir al Balah, an area in central Gaza where many of those fleeing had headed.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that all of its smaller clinics and emergency rooms in Gaza City were “out of service” because they were located in the evacuation zones.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.

key developments

25 reported dead in strike in southern Gaza, and other news.

  • At least 25 people were killed and more than 50 injured in an strike on a school building sheltering displaced people in the town of Abassan, outside of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, the Gaza Ministry of Health said, adding the death toll was likely to climb. Gazan officials blamed the strike on Israeli forces; The Israeli military did not immediate respond to a request for comment. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said its ambulances were taking additional victims to Al-Amal hospital.

  • A delegation of senior Israeli officials — led by David Barnea, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency — will go to Qatar on Wednesday for further negotiations on a cease-fire and hostage release deal, according to an Israeli official and another official familiar with the matter. Mr. Barnea will be joined by Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, the Israeli official said. The Israeli security chiefs are also expected to meet with William Burns, the C.I.A. director, and with the Qatari prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, the officials said.

  • Mr. Burns met with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, on Tuesday to discuss the negotiations. Mediators have been scrambling to keep the talks alive as hopes for a cease-fire have diminished, with Israel and Hamas both indicating that they are still far apart. A White House spokesman, John F. Kirby, said on Monday: “We’re trying to close those gaps as best we can.” He played down Israel’s and Hamas’s public comments, saying they “aren’t necessarily reflective of the conversations we’re having privately with them or their interlocutors.”

  • Two people were killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike on a car in Syria on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring organization based in Britain. The car, which reportedly belonged to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, was struck close to the Lebanese border, near a checkpoint between the two countries, the monitor said. In retaliation, Hezbollah launched dozens of rockets that critically wounded two Israelis in the Golan Heights, territory that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. Lebanese media identified one of the people killed in the strike as Abu al-Fadl Karnabsh, a former bodyguard to the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Attacks by Israel inside Syria have increased since the start of the war in Gaza.

  • Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, approved a plan on Tuesday to start drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men into the military over the next month after a Supreme Court ruling on June 25 found that there was no legal basis to give them an exemption. The Defense Ministry said that Mr. Gallant had approved orders for the screening and evaluation of ultra-Orthodox conscripts. The Supreme Court decision pit secular Israelis against the ultra-Orthodox, who say their religious study is as essential and protective as military service, and exposed cracks in the coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which relies on two ultra-Orthodox parties.

Organized looters are attacking aid convoys in search of contraband cigarettes, officials say.

A new problem is bedeviling humanitarian aid convoys attempting to deliver relief to hungry Gazans: attacks by organized crowds seeking not the flour and medicine that trucks are carrying, but cigarettes smuggled inside the shipments.

In tightly blockaded Gaza, cigarettes have become increasingly scarce, now generally selling for $25 to $30 apiece. U.N. and Israeli officials say the coordinated attacks by groups seeking to sell smuggled cigarettes for profit pose a formidable obstacle to bringing desperately needed aid to southern Gaza.

The Israeli authorities closely scan everything that goes in and out of Gaza through Israeli-administered checkpoints. But the cigarettes have managed to slip through for weeks inside aid trucks, mostly through Kerem Shalom crossing into southern Gaza.

To evade Israeli inspections, smugglers — mostly in Egypt — have been hiding them in sacks of United Nations-donated flour, diapers and even a watermelon, according to aid agencies and an Israeli military official who shared photos with The New York Times.

Aid trucks that set off from the crossing into Gaza were then attacked by crowds of Palestinians, some of them armed, seeking the cigarettes hidden inside, according to U.N. and Israeli officials.

Andrea De Domenico, who runs the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, confirmed that aid officials had “seen cartons of U.N.-branded assistance with cigarettes inside.” He said the contraband cigarettes had created “a new dynamic” of organized attacks on aid convoys.

Israel’s near-total control of the goods that enter Gaza amid the war has warped the enclave’s economy. The price of flour has plunged in parts of Gaza because Israel, under intense international pressure to ease hunger, has allowed aid agencies to pump in large amounts of it. Other commodities, which have entered less frequently, remain rarer and more expensive.

Mr. De Domenico showed The Times footage he had taken during a recent drive along the road leading into Gaza from Kerem Shalom: Full flour bags can be seen strewed along the side of the road, seemingly of little interest to the looters.

“Their main purpose here was to search for the cigarettes,” said Manhal Shaibar, who runs a Palestinian trucking company at Kerem Shalom that ferries U.N. aid.

Officials said that most of the trucks bearing cigarettes appeared to come from Egypt, which rerouted trucks arriving from Egyptian territory through Kerem Shalom after Israel captured the Rafah border crossing in early May. Mr. Shaibar attributed the smuggling operation to Bedouin families with a footprint in both Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai.

The looting is a product of the anarchy that has gripped much of Gaza as Israel’s war against Hamas enters its 10th month. Israeli forces have targeted Hamas’s governing apparatus and police without installing any new administration in their place, creating widespread lawlessness.

Even as deprivation in southern Gaza has deepened amid a new wave of Israeli military evacuation orders, the contents of over 1,000 aid trucks have been stuck for weeks at the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to the Israeli authorities. Fearing attack, aid agencies have hesitated to send trucks to collect and distribute the goods.

Israel says it has made efforts to ensure U.N. agencies can collect the goods, including by paving new roads, and points out that private merchants have been able to bear the difficult conditions to pick up their wares. Aid officials say Israel could do much more, including allowing them to expand their use of other roads and crossings.

Convoys ferrying U.N. aid are often an easier target than private businessmen, who are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in protection money to guards or to the organized gangs themselves.

U.N. and Israeli officials said the smugglers outside Gaza were closely coordinated with organized groups inside the territory that have blocked aid trucks with light arms, clubs and improvised roadblocks. After successfully halting convoys, the looters often appeared to know precisely where to find the cigarettes hidden inside, Mr. De Domenico said.

“These attacks have been very targeted,” he said. “They go exactly into the pallet” where the cigarettes are.

Col. Elad Goren, a senior official in COGAT, the Israeli agency that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, said the smuggling appeared to originate in Egypt; other people familiar with the trade shared his assessment.

“Most of the packages we’ve been able to get our hands on,” Colonel Goren said. “But we believe that things need to be done on the Egyptian side in order to stop the smuggling.”

The Egyptian government’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One cigarette seller in Gaza City said prices could range up to $40 per cigarette for more sought-after brands. Desperate smokers were willing to pay the high prices, despite being impoverished after several months of war, he said.

The seller, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution, said Hamas forces were still present in the area but not as police to apply the law, just as “mafias.”

A departing Israeli military leader denounces Jewish settler violence in the West Bank.

Amid rising tensions between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and new moves by the Israeli government to expand its hold on the territory, an Israeli general on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of the government’s policies there and condemned rising “nationalist crime” by Jewish settlers.

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuks, the outgoing chief of Israel’s Central Command, which is responsible for the country’s military forces in the West Bank, said at a departure ceremony that a “strong and functioning” Palestinian Authority was in Israel’s security interest.

The general’s statement appeared to be a swipe at Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself a settler and who has been crippling the authority by withholding tax funds that Israel collects on its behalf in the roughly 40 percent of the West Bank that the authority administers.

General Fuks also expressed dismay over an increase in settler violence in the West Bank, which is home to about 2.7 million Palestinians and a Jewish settler population that has grown to well over 500,000. An extremist minority of violent settlers, he said, had been undermining Israel’s reputation internationally and sowing fear among Palestinians. “That, to me, is not Judaism,” he said. “At least not what I was raised on in my father’s and mother’s home. That is not the way of the Torah.”

Israel seized control of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 during a war with three Arab states, and Israeli civilians have since settled there with both the tacit and explicit approval of the government, living under Israeli civil law while their Palestinian neighbors are subject to Israeli military law.

The international community largely views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, and many of them are illegal under Israeli law but are tolerated by the government. Many outposts that began as illegal under Israeli law have subsequently been legitimized by the government, and Palestinians have long argued that they are a creeping annexation that turns land needed for any independent Palestinian state into an unmanageable patchwork.

Last year, the United Nations reported that attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank had surged in the weeks following the Oct. 7 attacks that set off the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, with at least 115 killed, more than 2,000 injured and nearly 1,000 others forcibly displaced from their homes, citing violence and intimidation by Israeli forces and settlers.

General Fuks argued that terrifying the Palestinians living alongside Jews was “a dangerous mistake” and that the actions of violent Jewish settlers threatened Israel’s security.

But Mr. Smotrich has been vocal about wanting Israel to claim all of the West Bank. Last month, he struck a deal with ministers to release some money withheld from the Palestinian Authority in exchange for the legalization of five more Jewish outposts, and last week, the finance ministry released about $136 million.

Mr. Smotrich said in a post on social media that day that he was working with planning authorities on approving more than 5,000 additional housing units in the West Bank. “We’re building the good country and thwarting the creation of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Last month an Israeli ministry approved the largest seizure of West Bank land since the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, claiming about five square miles in the Jordan Valley, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settler activity. Israel has seized roughly nine square miles of the territory this year, making 2024 by far the peak year for appropriations, Peace Now said.

While settlers and ministers are defiant, their activities are a source of tension for Israel with other nations, including its ally the United States, at a time when it is increasingly isolated in the world over its conduct of the war in Gaza.

“Settlements continue to be counterproductive to a two-state solution,” John Kirby, the national security spokesman for the White House, said in a briefing with reporters on Monday. “We don’t support that.”

Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

At Ukraine’s Largest Children’s Hospital, a Horrific Scene of Destruction

Marc Santora and

Marc Santora reported from Odesa. Megan Specia reported from London.

Daryna Vertetska was sitting with her 8-year-old daughter in Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital on Monday morning when Russian missiles began to ring out in the sky.

Her daughter, Kira, was receiving treatment for her cancer as the explosions boomed across the capital, Kyiv.

“We decided not to interrupt it,” Ms. Vertetska said of the treatment.

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How Swizz Beatz Climbed to the Top of Saudi Arabia’s Camel Racing Scene

As the Arabian Peninsula’s fastest camels galloped around a track in the Saudi desert, Kasseem Dean, a Grammy Award-winning hip-hop producer from the Bronx, watched nervously from an air-conditioned V.I.P. viewing hall.

Waiters in black vests plied the crowd with lemonade and red velvet cupcakes. Women in sundresses milled around off-white sofas, sipping fizzy mocktails.

Though the camels sprinting past were the main event, Mr. Dean, better known as Swizz Beatz, felt as if all eyes in the room were on him — one of the newest competitors in Saudi Arabia’s deep-pocketed camel racing scene. Four years since he entered and won his first race, he has spent millions of dollars to buy 48 racing camels, ascending into the most elite circles of the sport.

A map of Saudi arabia highlighting AlUla. Mecca and Riyadh are also shown.

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NATO’s New Boss: Affable, Pragmatic and Ready for Trump, if Required

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Mark Rutte rode off into the sunset on his bicycle last week, making a carefully choreographed exit from Dutch politics, which he has dominated as prime minister for nearly 14 years. His next job will be even more challenging: He will be the new head of a NATO that is facing threats ranging from Russian aggression to the rise of right-wing nationalism across Europe.

Mr. Rutte, known as a flexible pragmatist, will bring his experience at conciliation to the 32-nation military alliance when he takes over as secretary general from Jens Stoltenberg on Oct. 1.

As it celebrates its 75th anniversary with a summit in Washington this week, NATO, which was founded to deter the former Soviet Union from further expansion in Europe, has found renewed purpose in its support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Beyond that challenge, NATO faces a Russian government forging stronger ties with China and Iran.

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Russian Court Orders Arrest of Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s Widow

A Russian court on Tuesday ordered the arrest in absentia of Yulia B. Navalnaya, the widow of Aleksei A. Navalny, who was a key figure in the country’s political opposition, accusing her of “participating in an extremist community.”

The court order against Ms. Navalnaya, who left Russia in 2021, comes five months after her husband died under murky circumstances in a harsh Russian penal colony. He was imprisoned after being convicted of various trumped-up charges when he returned to Russia after a near-fatal attempt to poison him in August 2020.

Ms. Navalnaya has repeatedly accused President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia of murdering her husband and has vowed to continue his opposition work. She has become an outspoken critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine, using episodes like a Russian missile hitting a children’s hospital in Kyiv on Monday to blame Mr. Putin and the Kremlin for the bloodshed.

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Indonesian Court Acquits Former Official Accused of Enslaving Addicts

A former official accused of imprisoning and enslaving 656 people on his estate in Indonesia under the guise of drug rehabilitation has been acquitted on charges of human trafficking, adding to concerns about the corruption that flourishes at the regional level in the country.

A three-judge panel on Monday found the former official, Terbit Rencana Perangin-angin, not guilty, a blow to those who had sought justice and compensation for imprisonment, abuse and forced labor.

“We are quite sad because in Indonesia, which has been an independent country for decades, there is still the practice of modern slavery, and this occurred in the home of a public official who has the responsibility to protect his citizens,” said Anis Hidayah, a member of Indonesia’s human rights commission.

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