Palestinians flee eastern Gaza City after being ordered to evacuate by the Israeli army. Photograph: Dawoud Abu Alkas/Reuters

Residents in Gaza City have denounced one of the heaviest attacks by Israeli forces since October 7, forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee an already devastated area in the first weeks of the nine-month war.

The latest Israeli incursion into the eastern sector of Gaza City came as far-right parties in Israel’s coalition again threatened to halt ongoing ceasefire negotiations in Qatar, arguing that stopping fighting now would be a huge mistake.

Sporadic militant activity has hampered Israeli efforts to maintain control in Gaza. Despite claiming authority over the Gaza City area months ago, Israel has faced persistent pockets of resistance, forcing it to reassess its military strategy and redeploy its forces.

Before the recent offensive, the Israeli military said it had issued evacuation orders in the area under attack.

The territory’s civil emergency service told Reuters it believed dozens of people had been killed in Gaza City but that teams were unable to reach them because of offensives in several areas.

According to local sources, Israeli warplanes bombed a residential apartment near an industrial center south of Gaza City, killing two citizens and wounding five others. They said a house south of Gaza City was bombed, killing one person and wounding seven others.

“Eyewitnesses said thousands of citizens were displaced from areas in the southwest of the city to the northwest and spent the night on the streets without shelter,” a source said.

Sayeda Abdel-Baki, who was sheltering at her relatives’ home in the Daraj neighborhood of Gaza City, told the Associated Press: “We fled in the darkness amid heavy attacks. This is my fifth displacement.”

Doctors at the al-Ahli Arab Baptist hospital in Gaza City had to evacuate patients to the already overcrowded and ill-equipped Indonesian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said.

According to an Israeli military statement, Israeli forces were operating “following intelligence indicating the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructure, operatives, weapons, and investigation and detention rooms for terrorists, including at UNRWA headquarters.”

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has previously criticised Hamas and Israel for occupying and using its facilities during the conflict.

Hopes among Gaza residents for a lull in fighting were revived after Hamas agreed to a key part of a US ceasefire proposal, prompting an official on the Israeli negotiating team to say there was a real chance of a deal.

But Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads a pro-settler party that is part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, said stopping the war now would be a big mistake.

“Hamas is collapsing and is calling for a ceasefire,” Smotrich wrote in X. “It is time to tighten the grip until the enemy is crushed and broken. To stop now, just before the end, and let it recover and return to fighting us is senseless madness.”

Concerns are growing in Israel over the significant influence that far-right opponents of a ceasefire agreement wield in the coalition.

Netanyahu faces criticism from opposition parties, the media and the families of the Israeli hostages, who accuse him of undermining efforts to reach a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages for his own political survival.

On Monday, a senior Hamas official accused Netanyahu of escalating fighting and bombing in Gaza to derail the latest attempt at a truce. “Every time a round of negotiations begins and a breakthrough is seen, he disrupts everything and increases the aggression and massacres against civilians,” the senior Hamas official told Agence France-Presse.

Netanyahu’s popularity plummeted after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which exposed serious failings in Israeli security. Most political observers say he would lose the election if it were held now.

This is not the first time that far-right parties within the coalition have interfered in negotiations.

Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst and author of The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel, said: “It is natural for far-right parties to have influence over Netanyahu’s decisions. They are his coalition partners and were elected to that position. It would be strange if they had no influence over Netanyahu. Moreover, the war cabinet has disappeared and Netanyahu has a bad relationship with his defense minister and distrusts the military establishment. Any influence they have is certainly matched by the partners Netanyahu has chosen for his government.

“The unusual context is that Netanyahu did not really have the possibility to choose coalition partners in 2022 because he had been indicted… Therefore, no other party would join his government. When people elected this government in 2022, they did not expect a war of this magnitude… they did not know that they were electing leaders for this purpose.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office issued a document saying any deal must allow Israel to resume its offensive “until it achieves its war aims.”

The document was harshly criticised by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who said: “What is the point of this? We are at a crucial moment in the negotiations, the lives of the hostages depend on it. Why make such provocative announcements? How does this help the process?”

Israel’s genocide has already claimed the lives of more than 37,000 Palestinians in Gaza. Of these, more than 15,800 are children, while another 3,500 are at serious risk of malnutrition, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. In addition, some 17,000 children are currently alone, separated from their families due to ongoing forced displacement as part of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing of the Gazan population.

The compulsory evacuation orders issued by the Israeli army to the Gazan population since October 7 last year are intended to instill fear and terror in the Palestinian population and force ethnic cleansing, as they have been practicing since 1947. It is part of the genocide they have been carrying out, and which involves the displacement of millions of people under the threat that they have nowhere safe to go, constituting true war crimes.


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