Israel has dropped leaflets across parts of southern Gaza calling on civilians to evacuate and “head towards known shelters,” indicating Israel could soon expand its ground operation against Hamas to the south of the enclave.
Leaflets were dropped Wednesday on four communities to the east of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, warning people living there to “evacuate your residence immediately.”
The communities – Al Qarrah, Khuza’a, Bani Suhaila, and Absaan – are near the perimeter fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, suggesting possible new incursion points by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) looking to take control of the south.
“Everyone who finds themselves near the terrorists or their buildings expose their lives to danger. Every house used by terrorist organizations will be targeted. Respecting the instructions of the IDF will prevent you, the civilians, being exposed to harm,” the leaflet read.
The director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has staff in Gaza, suggested Wednesday in a social media post that members of his local team had seen the leaflet. Reuters also said it had spoken to people who had seen it.
CNN has tried to speak to contacts in the Khan Younis area who might have seen the leaflet themselves, but efforts have been hindered by poor communications in the enclave. The main UN relief agency in Gaza said Thursday there was a “total communication blackout” in the enclave.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday that Hamas had lost control in northern Gaza, including Gaza City, which has become the epicenter of Israel’s ground offensive.
“We are in control of the entire area above and below ground in the northern Gaza Strip, and especially in Gaza City,” Gallant said at a news conference, referring to the IDF’s Golani Brigade. He said Israel had entered “the second stage of the war in Gaza,” and that the IDF would “keep advancing.”
Gallant went further Wednesday, telling a reporter that Israel’s ground operations “will last for many months – and will include both the north and the south [of the Gaza Strip]. We will dismantle Hamas wherever it is.”
The leaflet said “what Hamas is doing forces the IDF to operate against them in your residential areas,” adding “the IDF is not targeting you or your families.” The IDF has repeatedly said that Hamas continues to operate in civilian areas – such as hospitals and residential blocks – making these buildings legitimate military targets.
Aid organizations have warned that any Israeli move into the south of the enclave could cause a dire humanitarian situation to deteriorate further.
At least 11,470 Palestinians have been killed following the Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah said Thursday, citing medical sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
The United Nations estimates that around 1.5 million people have been internally displaced within Gaza – almost three quarters of the entire population.
UNWRA, the main UN relief agency in Gaza, said more than 800,000 people have taken refuge in just over 150 of its shelters, which it said was “far more people than their intended capacity.”