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By Bassam Masoud and Nidal al-Mughrabi


 – Fighting between Israel and Hamas intensified across Gaza on Monday, fuelling fears flagged by the United Nations at the weekend of a breakdown in public order and a mass exodus of Palestinians into Egypt.

The narrow coastal strip has been under a full Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict more than two months ago and the border with Egypt is the only other way out.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge in the densely populated enclave, with around 18,000 people already killed and conflict intensifying.

Since the breakdown of a week-long ceasefire, Israel launched a ground offensive in the south last week and has since pushed from the east into the heart of the major city of Khan Younis, with warplanes attacking an area to the west.

On Monday, militants and some residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving further west through the city and there were also fierce clashes in parts of northern Gaza, where Israel had said its tasks were largely complete.

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Israeli military stand at the site of a strike, following rockets attack that were fired from Gaza towards Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Holon, Israel, December 11, 2023 REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

Gazans forced to flee repeatedly described desperate attacks on aid trucks, sky high prices, and said people were dying of hunger and cold as well as bombardment.

“Hunger is the base for all evils that destroy the social fabric of communities,” writer Aziz Almasri said on Facebook. “It is the second face of the war we see today in Gaza.”

Israelis fled to shelters after new warnings of rocket fire into from Gaza, including in Tel Aviv. The armed wing of Hamas said it was bombarding the city in response to “the Zionist massacres against civilians”.

In the northern Gazan city of Jabalia, Palestinians ran to escape smoke bombs fired near tents and other homes and militants said they were clashing with Israeli troops.

Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee issued a new call on X on Monday for Gaza residents to evacuate Gaza City and other areas of the north as well as Khan Younis in the south.

U.N. officials say 1.9 million people – 85 percent of Gaza’s population – are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.

“I expect public order to completely break down soon and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.

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A damaged Israeli armoured military vehicle is hauled on a flatbed truck near the Gaza border fence, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

ISRAEL DENIES SEEKING TO EMPTY GAZA

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, the U.N. body responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, said the Gazans driven from their homes were being pushed closer and closer to the border.

“The developments we are witnessing point to attempts to move Palestinians into Egypt,” Lazzarini wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

The border with Egypt is heavily fortified, but Hamas militants blew holes in the wall in 2008 to break a tight blockade. Gazans crossed to buy food and other goods but quickly returned, with none permanently displaced.

Egypt has long warned it would not allow Gazans into its territory this time, fearing they would not be able to return.

Jordan, which absorbed the bulk of Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948, accused Israel on Sunday of seeking “to empty Gaza of its people”.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation “outrageous and false,” saying his country was defending itself “from the monsters who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre” and bringing them to justice.

Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage in that surprise attack, according to Israeli tallies. Israel has vowed to annihilate the militant Islamist group which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Around 18,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks, with 49,500 injured, according to Gaza health authorities. About 100 of the Israeli hostages were freed during a week-long truce that ended on Dec. 1.

Israel says the instructions to move are among far-reaching measures to protect the local population. It accuses militants from Hamas, which controls Gaza, of using civilians as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid, which Hamas denies.

The Israeli military said its troops in Jabalia had found weapons in an UNRWA bag and rocket launchers near a school and distributed a video showing explosive devices next to a bag marked UNRWA. Reuters was not able to independently verify the footage.

The military also distributed video purporting to show Hamas gunmen beating people and taking aid in the Gaza City district of Shejaia. Israel has prevented most aid from moving into Gaza despite what U.N officials have said are overwhelming needs.

Germany said too many innocent people had died in the conflict and urged Israel to adapt its strategy.

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GLOBAL STRIKE CALL

Palestinian activists called for a global strike on Monday to try to pressure Israel into a ceasefire, but it was unclear if it had spread beyond the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Gaza health ministry said 32 Palestinians had been killed in Khan Younis since early Sunday evening and 15 others were wounded. The armed wing of Hamas said it had hit two Israeli tanks with rockets and fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces.

Militants and residents said fighting was also fierce in Shejaia, east of the centre of Gaza City, the northwestern Sheikh Radwan district and Jabalia further north.

In central Gaza, where Israel advised people to move on Monday towards “known shelters in the Deir al-Balah area” health officials said the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital had received 40 dead overnight.

Medics said an Israeli air strike had killed four in a house in Rafah, one of two places near Egypt where Israel says Palestinians should take refuge.

Israel said it had suspended military activities in the refugee camp in Rafah on Monday morning for humanitarian reasons. It is one of several across the enclave housing refugees and their descendants from fighting before, during and after the creation of Israel in 1948 – for humanitarian purposes.

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