Israel Orders Evacuation From City in Gaza as Hamas Regroups

(Bloomberg) -- Israel ordered Palestinians to leave parts of Gaza’s Khan Younis ahead of a possible new assault, underscoring its struggle to stop militants regrouping in areas that were previously cleared.

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The Israel Defense Forces warned people in eastern neighborhoods of the second-biggest city in Gaza to evacuate. The military said warplanes hit the area overnight after 20 rockets were fired from there toward Israel. While there were no injuries among Israelis, it was one of the worst missile barrages from Gaza in weeks.

Israeli ground forces began fighting in Khan Younis late last year and by February said they’d mostly defeated Hamas’ units. Israel then pulled some troops out in April and said it was ending its mission in the city.

Much of Khan Younis has been reduced to rubble but some residents moved back in the past two months, and Israel’s evacuation order was met with anger.

“Where shall we go?” said Ahmed Al-Shami, who’s in Khan Younis. He said hundreds of people spent the night on the street with their belongings because they could not find transportation to leave.

Another inhabitant, Kholoud Abu Baraka, said she and her family managed to reach Al-Mawassi, an area designated a safe zone by Israel, but it was too crowded to pitch their tent.

Many Palestinians are gathering near the Nasser hospital in the west of Khan Younis.

The IDF has tended to quickly move troops out of areas in Gaza that it’s cleared of fighters belonging to Hamas or other groups such as Islamic Jihad. While that’s part of a strategy to avoid occupying cities in the Mediterranean enclave, the US and others warn it’s creating a power vacuum and allowing militants to reassemble.

One June 23, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said fighting in the southern city of Rafah would be over “very soon.” Yet while Israel has presented that as the last major battle in Gaza, its officials say Hamas won’t be fully defeated before the end of the year.

The IDF’s latest moves in Khan Younis come as tensions worsen with Hezbollah, another Iran-backed group. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said there’s “momentum” toward a full-on conflict between Israel and the Lebanon-based militants, which Washington and Paris are trying to prevent.

Hezbollah, like Hamas, is designated a terrorist organization by the US. It’s considered the most powerful militia in the Middle East and a war with Israel would likely draw in the US as well as Iran, which sees the group as more important than Hamas.

Tehran would support Hezbollah directly and via other allied militias in the region in the event of a full-blown conflict, Kamal Kharrazi, foreign affairs adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“There would be a chance of expansion of the war to the whole region, in which all countries including Iran would become engaged,” he said.

Israeli assets have weakened in the past two weeks as the prospect of a new war has increased. The government’s dollar bonds are among the worst performing in emerging markets, while the shekel is trading near a 10-week low against the dollar, though it’s strengthened slightly in the past two days.

Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire almost daily since Hamas’ attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, which triggered the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu Responds

Hamas killed around 1,200 people and took 250 hostage. Almost 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel began an air and ground offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Israeli military leaders want a cease-fire in Gaza because they believe that’s the best way to free the hostages and to allow solders to recuperate in case a war with Hezbollah breaks out. It also said there shortages of some munitions and spare parts.

Soon after, Netanyahu issued a statement reiterating his aim of continuing the conflict in Gaza until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are released.

“The government directed the IDF to achieve these war objectives and the IDF has all the means to achieve them,” Netanyahu said. “We will not capitulate to the winds of defeatism.”

--With assistance from Alisa Odenheimer.

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