Israel widens strikes, orders more evacuations in north of Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, April 23, 2024. [AP Photo]

Israeli forces stepped up attacks across Gaza on Tuesday as the Israel-Hamas war entered its 200th day. Residents reported some of the heaviest shelling in weeks along with new orders to evacuate northern regions of the enclave, which Israeli officials called a "dangerous combat zone."

Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee used the X social media platform to urge residents in parts of Beit Lahiya, along Gaza's northern edge, to proceed to designated shelter areas, saying Israel is moving forward with plans to "work with extreme force against terrorist infrastructure and subversive elements" in the region.

The orders come about four months after Israeli defense officials said Hamas militants no longer controlled that area.

Increased strikes were reported in southern and central parts of Gaza amid Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threats to invade Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city where an estimated 1.5 million displaced civilians have taken refuge, largely in makeshift encampments.

In nearby Khan Younis, about 8 kilometers north of Rafah, The Associated Press reported that a new compound of tents was being erected, possibly to shelter displaced civilians fleeing an anticipated attack on Rafah. The AP cited an official representing the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry who said the tent compound is being set up to house civilians currently sheltering in a hospital.

Britain, Germany hostage release

Western diplomats on Tuesday called for Hamas to release the hostages it is still holding in the Gaza Strip.

“200 days ago, Hamas carried out the deadliest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on X. “200 days on, hostages remain in captivity, and their loved ones continue to face unimaginable suffering.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: "As long as the hostages are not free, we will not let up. Only when they are home will peace have a chance."

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 250 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says the militants are holding about 100 captives and the remains of more than 30 others.

Israel’s response, a military campaign it says is aimed at eliminating Hamas and ensuring the U.S-designated terror group cannot carry out a future attack, has killed at least 34,183 Palestinians and injured more than 77,000 others, according to the Gaza health ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says women and children account for two-thirds of those killed.

The United States said on Monday that Hamas has not agreed to a “very significant proposal that was on the table” for a halt in fighting, the release of hostages held in Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and an increase in humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that in recent weeks, Israel has moved somewhat to meet Hamas demands in negotiations, only to have Hamas then change those demands.

“It takes two to make an agreement, and right now Hamas has signaled that they don’t want an agreement,” Miller said.

The Israeli military said Tuesday its forces conducted airstrikes overnight that destroyed two Hamas rocket launch positions in the southern Gaza Strip.

Ground forces also continued operating in central Gaza, while airstrikes killed dozens of militants throughout Gaza, the military said.

Strike on Hezbollah

Israeli forces killed at least two Hezbollah fighters in a series of strikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, the military said Tuesday. It shared a video on social media showing a strike blowing up a car as it drove down a road.

Lebanese state media said an apparent Israeli strike on a car in the Adloun area killed at least one person.