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As Israel Ramps Up Gaza Airstrikes, Evacuees Say Nowhere Is Safe

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Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who heeded the Israeli military’s order to evacuate portions of the Gaza Strip are confronting deadly airstrikes from Israeli warplanes even after they’ve moved. And a grim question hung over the enclave on Tuesday: Was there anywhere safe to go?

Last week, after the deadly Oct. 7 cross-border attacks by Hamas, Israel ordered all of Gaza’s northern residents — some 1.1 million people — to abandon their homes ahead of an expected ground invasion of the strip and to head south. Hundreds of thousands obeyed, leaving by car, motorcycle and even on foot.

But on Tuesday, Israel said it had intensified its bombing in the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, just as the residential buildings there were swelling with new arrivals and as food, water, medicines and other supplies were running out.

Asked why Israel continued to strike in southern Gaza after ordering people to evacuate there, Maj. Nir Dinar, an Israeli military spokesman, said that Israel sought to avoid civilian casualties but that members of Hamas were hiding out among Gazan civilians. He added that southern Gaza was relatively safer than the north, but not entirely safe.

Some Palestinians who fled the north said they were considering returning to their homes as strikes intensify in the south. The north has been under relentless bombardment by Israel for the past 10 days.

“There’s constant bombing, even in these areas they say are safe — but there are no more safe places in Gaza,” said Mohammad Ayoub, 57, who had fled with his family from Beit Hanoun with only a few personal items.

“Today is worse than all the previous bad days,” said Dr. Mohamed Zaqout, general manager of Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. He said his hospital had received 42 bodies from Tuesday’s strikes; 26 of those remained unidentified in the morgue hours later. The dead included 10 women and 15 children, he said.

An Israeli strike also hit Ahly Arab Hospital in Gaza City, killing at least 500 Palestinians, according to a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Health Ministry. Many civilians were sheltering at the hospital, better known as Al-Ma’amadani.

Asked about the Israeli airstrike on the hospital Major Dina said, “We’re checking.”

Everywhere you turned in Khan Younis, there was a sense of a city on the brink of disaster. People were sleeping in the streets. There were long lines in front of water tanks, bakeries and market stalls, with fights erupting over the last remaining loaves of bread and tomatoes. Some people were building ovens from sand and soil to bake bread the traditional way — and save their families from starvation.

Everyone is “just trying to survive,” Yousef Hammash, advocacy officer for the Norwegian Refugee Council, an aid group, said in a voice message from Khan Younis. Mr. Hammash is among those who were displaced from the northern part of Gaza.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement on Tuesday that Israel’s evacuation order, combined with an imposition of a “complete siege” on Gaza, might amount to a forcible transfer of civilians, which is illegal under international law.

Some people were staying in U.N. schools turned into shelters, but the majority were being hosted by their extended families in overcrowded homes, or simply sleeping rough.

Rami Abu Moleg, 43, a taxi driver living in the southern city of Deir Al Balah, said his family of five was struggling to find bread and water — all while hosting six members of his cousin’s family who had fled from Gaza City in the north. He described regular bombardment in the area, with at least six explosions since early Tuesday morning.

The house has had no power for four days. The two families were huddled in the same room where they had removed the windows to prevent them from shattering during airstrikes. Two days before, Mr. Abu Moleg said, a house close to theirs was hit, killing three children and their mother.

“If we die, we prefer to die together,” he said of himself and his family.

Southern Gaza’s hospitals have become increasingly stretched thin. At Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the intensive-care unit is full, with no beds available for patients who had amputations or need surgery for brain injuries and severe burns suffered in the latest attacks, according to staff.

Chest tubes — meant to be disposed of after one use — are running out, so doctors are sterilizing them and using them again and again.

The World Health Organization, which has staff members in southern Gaza, said on Tuesday that hospitals there were facing “an acute shortage of medical supplies and equipment,” and “an imminent water and sanitation crisis.”

The limited water supply is putting the lives of more than 3,500 patients in 35 hospitals across the strip at immediate risk, the agency added.

Basil al-Weheidi, a retired official with the United Nationals Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, left his home in Gaza City for Deir al-Balah with his wife, children and extended family to comply with the Israeli evacuation order. But they feel little safer in the southern zone, he said.

“There was so much bombing in our neighborhood around us; and there’s still bombing around us here — it feels close,” Mr. al-Weheidi said by telephone as he charged his phone in his car.

“I can’t tell you exactly where it is, though — we don’t have any internet. We’re in the middle of it all, and we have no idea what’s going on.”

Abu Bakr Bashir and Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.

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