Israel orders further evacuations in Gaza as army battles Hamas in Shajaiye

Early in the war against Hamas, as Israeli forces made their way from the northern Gaza Strip to the south, a neighborhood of Gaza City called Shajaiye loomed over the battle. In December, nine soldiers were killed there in what the Israeli army said was one of the deadliest days of the war for its forces.

Later, with Shajaiye devastated and Gaza city appearing pacified, soldiers pressed on, eventually taking the battle to Gaza's southernmost city, Rafah, described as Hamas' last major stronghold. In turn, Palestinian civilians who had fled the fighting in Gaza City began to return.

On Thursday they were on the run again.

Israel ordered people in part of the eastern Gaza city to evacuate as Palestinian officials and residents reported heavy strikes and numerous casualties. People in the area described a frantic effort to get out as explosions rang out around them. Palestinian officials said the strikes hit Shajaiye.

“We heard explosions from every direction,” said Mohammad al-Bahrawi, 65, who had returned with his family to their home in Shajaiye months ago. He said “a torrent” of people had been sent fleeing.

“I couldn't even believe that so many people were still in Shajaiye,” Mr. al-Bahrawi said.

The Israeli military said it could not immediately comment on the attacks. Israel's public broadcaster, Kan, reported that the army was conducting a ground operation to eradicate Hamas based on intelligence that the armed group had begun to regain control of the neighborhood.

The operation, if confirmed, would be part of a larger war plan in which Israel has struggled to achieve its stated goal: to wipe out Hamas, which organized and led the October 7 attacks on Israeli territory that sparked the war in Gaza. .

Israeli forces have repeatedly found themselves retreating into parts of Gaza they had previously left, especially in the north, as Hamas regroups amid the anarchy of the nine-month war. Fighting has flared up even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks of a new, less intense phase.

Frustration is growing in Israel and around the world over what critics say is Mr Netanyahu's failure to present a plan for how Gaza should be governed if Hamas is defeated.

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said the key to defeating a counterinsurgency is known by the shorthand formula “liberate, hold, build.”

The Israelis “thought about Day 1, killing the bad guys, but they didn't focus on the next steps,” Byman said. “This was unjustifiable even in October and November. Now there are fewer and fewer excuses.”

Gaza health authorities said Thursday that 15 people were killed and dozens injured in Shajaiye. Civil Defense, the Palestinian emergency service, said five houses were hit in Shajaiye and another neighborhood and that the search was underway for missing people. The financial statements could not be independently verified.

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