The New York Times 2024-07-11 04:10:17


Middle East Crisis: Israel Urges Gaza City Residents to Evacuate, Calling It a ‘Combat Zone’

The Israeli military urged Palestinians to head south, signaling that the renewed fighting there would likely continue.

The Israeli military on Wednesday urged Palestinians across the city to evacuate to the south, a sign that the renewed fighting meant to crack down on a resurgent Hamas insurgency would likely continue after nine months of war.

Israeli planes dropped leaflets on the city urging its residents to head for central Gaza through four “safe corridors.” Israel has already issued warnings for Palestinians to leave specific parts of Gaza City, and it was not clear if its latest statement amounted to an expansion of those calls. But the notice raised new fears among residents, many of whom have been displaced multiple times.

“Gaza City will remain a dangerous combat zone,” the Israeli military said in a statement published on social media. It said that Palestinians who left Gaza City through the approved routes would get out “quickly and without inspection.”

Israeli troops had sent ground troops into the Shajaiye neighborhood late last month and the fighting has since expanded to other parts of the city. The military said later on Wednesday that it had concluded its operation in Shajaiye, but it gave no indication that fighting would end elsewhere.

Israeli troops have re-entered Gaza City in recent days, in the latest instance of Israeli forces returning to fight in places they had secured earlier and then withdrew. The Israeli military has repeatedly returned to areas across the Gaza Strip in an attempt to suppress Hamas fighters, who have fought a dogged guerrilla war. Analysts have said Israel’s unwillingness to install an alternative administration in Gaza has created a power vacuum, allowing Hamas to regroup.

In January, the Israeli military dialed back the intensity of its military campaign in Gaza City and the rest of the north. Since then, Israeli forces have carried out a series of targeted raids in the area, and in March its troops raided Al-Shifa hospital for a second time, killing nearly 200 people it called “terrorists” and leaving devastation behind after extended gun battles with Palestinian militants.

It is not clear how many Hamas fighters remain in Gaza City. After sending ground forces into Shajaiye, Israeli troops moved into other parts of the city: Tel al-Hawa, where Israeli forces stormed a United Nations compound that the military said had taken over by militants, as well as the neighborhoods of Al-Daraj and Tuffah.

In statements on social media, Hamas has said over the past few days that its forces were fighting Israeli troops in Shajaiye and Tel al-Hawa. In Shajaiye alone, Israel claims its troops have eliminated “more than 150 terrorists” over the past week and have destroyed six underground tunnels.

Hamas has used urban areas in Gaza to conceal its operations, running tunnels under neighborhoods and holding hostages in city centers. The group’s members, who are from Gaza, have long lived among the civilian population.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, has said that the group tries to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way, but Israeli operations in Gaza have left little room to maneuver.

Israel first ordered hundreds of thousands of Gazans in the northern part of the enclave to move south in mid-October, just days after the Hamas-led attack that killed 1,200 in Israel and saw 250 taken hostage. Hundreds of thousands remained, however, and others joined them after a weeklong truce in November allowed some to return to their homes in the north.

In May, at least 200,000 people were still in northern Gaza, according to the United Nations. But the new wave of Israeli military operations has forced tens of thousands from their homes, leaving the current tally unclear.

Many have been already been displaced multiple times, seeking shelter in schools and relatives’ homes, only to be forced to flee the fighting yet again.

“People continue to flee and be on the run in search for safety that they never find,” said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinians, said on Wednesday. “Gaza has become an exodus on repeat.”

Key Developments

A top White House official meets with Netanyahu, and other news.

  • The top White House official for Middle East affairs met in Israel on Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, the defense minister. In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he and the official, Brett McGurk, discussed negotiations on a cease-fire and hostage release deal, during which the Israeli leader said he was committed to the process “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved.” Mr. Netanyahu has long insisted that the war must continue until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s military and governing abilities. Mr. Gallant said that in his meeting with Mr. McGurk he had stressed the need for security guarantees along the border between Gaza and Egypt that would cut off Hamas’s ability to rearm itself through smuggling. He said that would allow Israel to eventually withdraw from the border area, a likely condition in any Gaza cease-fire deal.

  • A delegation of senior Israeli officials was expected in Qatar on Wednesday for cease-fire negotiations as mediators tried to narrow wide gaps between Israel and Hamas. The delegation includes David Barnea, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, and Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, according to Majed al-Ansari, the spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, and an Israeli official familiar with the matter. The Israeli security chiefs were also expected to meet with William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, and with the Qatari prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, they said. Mr. al-Ansari described the talks as “progressing positively” in recent weeks but added, “We are by no means out of the woods.”

  • Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief, in a televised speech on Wednesday reiterated that “the only way” the Lebanese armed group would stop hostilities with Israel at its northern border with Lebanon is when fighting with Hamas stops in Gaza. Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese militia that is fighting in allegiance with Hamas, has been exchanging rocket fire with Israel at Israel’s northern border, driving more than 150,000 Lebanese and Israelis in the region out of their homes. Hezbollah fired rockets on Tuesday into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday that killed a couple, Noa and Nir Baranes, in retaliation for an apparent Israeli drone strike in Syria. The Israeli military said on Wednesday that soldiers identified several Hezbollah operatives entering a “military site” in southern Lebanon and that its air force struck there, and also targeted additional Hezbollah infrastructure nearby.

  • The Israeli military said its tanks and artillery struck Syrian military infrastructure on Wednesday in a buffer zone established in a 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. The military said in a statement that Syrian forces had violated the agreement and were responsible for “all activities occurring within its territory.” Israel has ramped up strikes on Syria, often targeting Hezbollah and other Iran-backed armed groups. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Wednesday that it had documented more than 50 such attacks in 2024, with Israel destroying over 100 buildings, weapons warehouses, vehicles and other facilities. The strikes have killed 176 combatants and injured 91 others, the war monitor said, including members of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah.

A deadly Israeli strike at a school turned shelter shatters a moment of cheer.

It was a moment of respite and levity in Gaza: Boys played soccer in the courtyard of a school building as a crowd looked on.

The moment did not last.

Video shared by Al Jazeera and verified by The New York Times recorded the instant an Israeli airstrike hit outside the school turned shelter on Tuesday night, killing at least 27 Palestinians, according to Gazan authorities.

In the video, shot at the Al Awda School on the outskirts of Khan Younis, the ball is in midair when a large explosion is heard and the camera shakes. A man yells, “Run away, run away, Al Awda has been targeted!”

The person shooting the video runs to the entrance of the school, and the camera pans across a scene of devastation. Shredded bodies are on the ground amid debris, and there is a cacophony of screams. “Oh God,” someone yells.

The Israeli military said that the strike targeted a Hamas member who took part in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that ignited the war. It did not release details on the identity of the Hamas member or whether the person had been killed. The military said it was “looking into reports that civilians were harmed.”

Iyad Qadeh, who was sitting outside his home near the entrance of the school at the time of the strike, said it had been calm and there were not even Israeli surveillance drones in the sky, as there often are above Gaza, creating a nearly nonstop buzzing.

Suddenly, a warplane flew overhead and fired a missile toward a group of young men sitting in an internet café, he said.

“After that, it was screams and body parts everywhere,” he said. “Everyone started running searching for their children or family members.”

The strike was the fourth in four days that hit or damaged a school building in Gaza, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the U.N. agency that helps Palestinians, wrote on social media Wednesday.

Since Israel began its punishing military offensive in Gaza more than nine months ago, two-thirds of U.N.-run school facilities in the territory have been hit, Mr. Lazzarini wrote. “Schools have gone from safe places of education & hope for children to overcrowded shelters and often ending up a place of death & misery,” he said.

Those shelters have become critical for Palestinians in Gaza since Israeli bombardment and ground fighting have forced much of the territory’s 2.2 million residents to flee their homes. The Israeli military has claimed that militants are using such shelters and other civilian buildings to hide themselves and their activities.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, has said that the group tries to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way.

Most of those injured or killed in the strike on Tuesday were taken to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in ambulances, private vehicles and donkey carts. Dr. Mohammed Saqer, director general of nursing at Nasser, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that 56 people had been wounded, most of them children and women. “And unfortunately nearly 10 cases of amputation among them,” he said, “hands and feet completely blown off.”

The state of the bodies brought to Nasser made it difficult to determine the number and identities of the dead, he added.

The influx of traumatic injuries came at a time when the few still-functioning hospitals in the Gaza Strip are struggling to keep running amid Israeli strikes and raids and a lack of medicine, medical equipment and reliable power. “Many of our medical staff have been detained, many have been killed and many have had to leave Gaza,” Dr. Saqer said.

There is a shortage, too, of hospital beds, and most of the airstrike victims were treated on the floors of wards or in the hallways, he said.

A video shot by the Reuters news agency at the site of the strike showed the fragment of a weapon. Two weapons experts — Trevor Ball, a former U.S. Army explosive ordnance disposal technician, and Patrick Senft, a weapons expert at the consulting firm Armament Research Services — identified the fragment as a part of a small-diameter bomb, also known as a GBU-39.

The precision-guided bomb, which is U.S.-made, weighs about 250 pounds, and is increasingly the weapon of choice for the Israeli military. Two GBU-39s were used in a deadly strike on a tent camp in Rafah on May 26.

In Gaza, such bombs “are often used to target specific floors in buildings, penetrating through the roof before detonating,” Mr. Ball said.

Although smaller in explosive power than the 2,000-pound bombs that have been used elsewhere in Gaza, the bombs “can still cause significant injury and death, especially when used in areas where there is little to no protection for people from blast and fragmentation effects, such as a street, or area with just tents,” he said.

Malachy Browne, Sanjana Varghese and Ameera Harouda contributed reporting.

This Alliance United West Africa for Decades. Now Countries Are Backing Out.

Three West African countries have broken away from a 15-member regional bloc that has long ensured free movement of people and goods among its tightly knit economies, further destabilizing an area that is home to nearly 400 million people and threatened by violent insurgents.

The leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger last weekend announced their “irrevocable and immediate” withdrawal from the bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS. They said that they are creating their own confederation.

The three countries, all ruled by military leaders friendly to Russia, span more than half of the bloc’s geographic area and are among its most populous. However, they are not the region’s largest economies, and as landlocked nations, all three depend on access to ports in coastal countries for overseas trade.

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Defeated by A.I., a Legend in the Board Game Go Warns: Get Ready for What’s Next

Lee Saedol was the finest Go player of his generation when he suffered a decisive loss, defeated not by a human opponent but by artificial intelligence.

Mr. Lee was beaten by AlphaGo, an A.I. computer program developed by Google’s DeepMind unit. The stunning upset, in 2016, made headlines around the world and looked like a clear sign that artificial intelligence was entering a new, profoundly unsettling era.

By besting Mr. Lee, an 18-time world champion revered for his intuitive and creative style of play, AlphaGo had solved one of computer science’s greatest challenges: teaching itself the abstract strategy needed to win at Go, widely considered the world’s most complex board game.

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Rwanda Says It Doesn’t Have to Repay U.K. for Scrapped Migration Plan

Rwanda does not have to repay the hundreds of millions of pounds it received from Britain as part of a contentious policy aimed at sending migrants on a one-way flight to the Central African nation, two senior Rwandan government officials say.

Rwanda’s president had previously suggested that such money could be returned.

As part of the deal, Britain was set to give Rwanda as much as about half a billion pounds in development funding in exchange for taking in the migrants. Britain’s independent public spending watchdog said in early March that the country had already paid Rwanda £220 million, about $280 million, even though no asylum seekers had been deported to the African nation.

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A Biden Confidant Emerges as a Crucial Mideast Diplomat

A few weeks before Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, a senior White House official visited eastern Lebanon for a sightseeing trip that doubled as a dramatic political statement.

The official, Amos Hochstein, one of President Biden’s most trusted national security advisers, toured the ancient ruins of Baalbek in an area well known as a stronghold of Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group sponsored by Iran.

Wearing white pants and a golf shirt, and with no security entourage, Mr. Hochstein marveled at the artifacts and snapped photos of the onetime Roman city’s crumbling stone walls and columns. Keeping watch from a distance were several muscular men in black T-shirts — presumed Hezbollah militiamen.

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Macron Ends His Silence, Calling for ‘a Broad Gathering’ That Would Split the Left

Expressing himself for the first time three days after deadlocked legislative elections, President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Wednesday that “a little time” would be needed to build a “broad gathering” of what he called “republican forces” able to form a coalition government.

Just 16 days from the opening of the Paris Olympics, it was unclear whether Mr. Macron had in mind a delay that would mean no new government was in place when the games begin. For now he has asked Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, whose resignation he rejected, to continue in a caretaker capacity.

In a letter to the French people, made public before its scheduled publication on Thursday in regional newspapers, Mr. Macron said of the election he abruptly called last month: “nobody won it.” That seemed certain to irk the New Popular Front, a resurgent left-wing alliance that came in first with about 180 seats in the National Assembly.

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