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Why is Israel attacking south Gaza after telling people to go there?

Israel has told civilians in the northern Gaza Strip, including residents of Gaza City, to move to the south of the enclave, saying it will be safer there as the military attacks Hamas following its Oct 7 cross-border assault.

However, Israeli warplanes have continued to hit sites in southern Gaza, spreading fear among the evacuees that they are just as vulnerable there as they were in their homes in the north. Here is an overview of the situation.

WHY IS ISRAEL STILL HITTING THE SOUTH?

Since telling Gazans to head south, the Israeli military (IDF) has continued to pound targets across the area, killing an unknown number of civilians. In all, authorities in Gaza say 6,546 Palestinians have died since Israeli strikes started on Oct 7.

Residents said the bombardment of the south intensified on Oct 25. One strike brought down several apartment buildings in Khan Younis, some 10km from the Egyptian border.

The IDF has said that even if Hamas’s main power centre is in Gaza City, it is nonetheless entrenched among the civilian population across the enclave.

“Wherever a Hamas target arises, the IDF will strike at it in order to thwart the terrorist capabilities of the group, while taking feasible precautions to mitigate the harm to uninvolved civilians,” the military said on Wednesday, reiterating previous statements.

The military has said the homes where militants live are “legitimate targets” even if civilians live alongside them.

“The so-called private home is not a private home,” a senior Israeli air force officer told reporters in a recent briefing.

WHY DID ISRAEL ORDER THE EVACUATION SOUTH?

The Israeli military said on Oct 12 that nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population should move to the southern half of Gaza within 24 hours. The military said the order was aimed at moving civilians away from “Hamas terror targets”, which it believes are concentrated in the north.

Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus subsequently said: “We are preparing the area for significant military activity in Gaza City. That is the next stage. That’s why we are asking civilians to go south of the Gaza River.”

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Israel has massed troops on the border with Gaza and is widely expected to launch a land invasion.

On Oct 18, the military urged residents of Gaza to evacuate to what it called a humanitarian zone in Al Mawasi, on the coast of southern Gaza.

Israel renewed its warnings on Oct 22, saying that anyone staying in the north could be identified as sympathisers of a “terrorist organisation” if they did not leave.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE MOVED?

Hamas has urged Palestinians to ignore the Israeli warnings.

Israel said on Wednesday it had attacked Hamas roadblocks that it believed were stopping people evacuate.

Despite Hamas’s attempts to stop an exodus, residents and international aid organisations say there has been a mass displacement of people away from the north and other areas of the enclave seen as a especially vulnerable to attack.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated on Oct 24 that more than 1.4 million people are internally displaced (IDPs) within Gaza.

Gaza’s border crossings with both Egypt and Israel are closed, effectively trapping residents inside the enclave.

WHAT HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SAID?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said giving hundreds of thousands of people just hours to leave their homes was “dangerous and deeply troubling”. Many Western governments have called for a pause in the fighting to open humanitarian corridors for the trapped civilians. Arab nations have called for Israel to stop the war.

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