Israel’s military dropped thousands of leaflets on war-torn Gaza City on Wednesday, urging all residents to flee a heavy onslaught through the enclave’s central city.

Palestinians inspect the damage after Israeli forces conducted a ground operation in the Shejaiya neighborhood, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, on July 10, 2024, in the eastern part of Gaza City. (Reuters)

The leaflets, addressed to “everyone in Gaza City”, set out specific escape routes and warned that the urban area, which had a pre-war population of more than half a million, was “a dangerous war zone”. The zone will remain”.

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The warning comes as Israeli troops, backed by tanks and aircraft, have battled Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the heaviest fighting seen in months since the October 7 war.

The UN said the latest withdrawals would “only add to the massive suffering of Palestinian families, many of whom have been displaced multiple times”.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said that civilians must be protected.

An Israeli government spokesman said the aim was to “get civilians out of harm’s way” while troops battled militants “where they are”.

“This is the 12th time” her family has had to flee, Umm Nimr al-Jamal, a woman carrying her small belongings through the ruins, told AFP on Tuesday.

“How many times can we endure this? A thousand times? Where shall we go?”

The increase in fighting, bombing and displacement came as Qatar was set to resume negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage-release deal, now entering its 10th month.

Hamas official Hossam Badran, who was asked about the escalation of military operations, told AFP that Israel was “hoping that the resistance will give up its legitimate demands in the ceasefire negotiations”.

But “the continuation of massacres forces us to concede our demands”, he said.

Heavy fighting also broke out in Gaza’s far southern Rafah, where Israeli tanks entered the city center and opened fire on buildings, witnesses told AFP.

– ‘unacceptable’ –

Across Gaza, deadly attacks have hit four schools used as shelters in four days, killing at least 49 people, according to medics and officials in the Hamas-controlled territory, and France. And Germany has condemned both attacks as “unacceptable”.

“We demand a full investigation into these attacks,” the French foreign ministry said Tuesday, highlighting the deadly strike on a school near the southern city of Khan Yunis.

“It is unacceptable that schools, especially civilians displaced by the fighting, should be targeted.”

Israel said the attacks targeted militants holed up in schools.

In the eastern Shujaiya district of Gaza City, where heavy fighting has erupted since Israelis ordered an evacuation on June 27, a spokesman for the Civil Defense Agency said there had been widespread “devastation”.

Mahmood Bisal said that Shujaiya had become a “ghost city”.

Witnesses, as well as Bisal, said Israeli troops had withdrawn from the area, although the army told AFP its forces were “still operating” there.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by intelligence chief David Barnia arrived in Doha to broker a ceasefire, a source familiar with the sensitive talks said.

CIA Director William Burns was also expected in the Qatari capital after talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Joe Biden’s Middle East Special Envoy Brett McGurk.

Netanyahu “stressed his commitment” to the proposed cease-fire plan as long as Israel’s red lines were preserved.

– ‘Stop this war’ –

According to AFP figures based on Israeli data, Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel killed 1,195 people, most of them civilians.

The militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, killing 42 soldiers.

Israel responded with a military operation that killed at least 38,295 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to figures from the territory’s health ministry.

Defense Minister Yves Gallant told Israeli lawmakers that 60 percent of Hamas fighters had been “killed or wounded” during the war.

Israel has imposed a punishing siege on Gaza’s 2.4 million people, relieved only by sporadic aid deliveries.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders has warned of a “severe” shortage of medical supplies in Gaza, with no resupply for more than two months.

Independent UN rights experts on Tuesday accused Israel of waging a “targeted starvation campaign”, a claim strongly denied by Israel.

Relatives of the Israeli hostages, who have pressured Netanyahu to take immediate action to recover their loved ones, began a four-day march from Tel Aviv to the seat of government in Jerusalem.

“We want all of Israel to come out with us” and “remind Netanyahu that … he needs to sign an agreement to bring them back and stop this terrible war,” said hostage Yoram Metzger’s daughter-in-law. Ayala Metzger said. who died in prison.

Since the start of the Gaza war, Israeli forces have also regularly exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, an ally of Hamas, raising fears of a wider regional conflict.

As cross-border clashes intensified, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday that his group would stop attacks if fighting in Gaza ends.

“If a cease-fire is reached, and we all hope it will be … our front will fire without negotiation.”

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