Numerous Palestinian families escaped the intensifying Israeli ground offensive in Gaza, seeking refuge in the few overcrowded shelters left, while the military carried out substantial strikes in the central and southern regions, resulting in the deaths of dozens, according to Palestinian health officials.
The latest people to be displaced fled from several built-up refugee camps in central Gaza that have been targeted in the latest phase of Israel’s ground assault.
The Israeli military issued evacuation orders for Bureij and neighboring parts of central Gaza on Tuesday.
The area was home to nearly 90,000 people before the war and now shelters more than 61,000 displaced people, mostly from the north, according to the UN humanitarian office.
Bureij camp, like others in Gaza, houses refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and their descendants and now resembles other densely populated neighborhoods.
Because UN shelters are packed many times over capacity, the new arrivals set up tents on sidewalks for the cold winter night.
Most crowded onto streets around the town’s main hospital, Al-Aqsa Martyrs, hoping it would be safer from Israeli strikes.
Still, no place is safe in Gaza. Israeli offensives are crowding most of the population into Deir al-Balah and Rafah at the territory’s southern edge as well as a tiny rural area by the southern coastline. Those areas continue to be hit by Israeli strikes that regularly crush homes full of people. Many fear they too could eventually come under ground assault.
Israel’s offensive in Gaza has already been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history. More than 21,100 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Almost all of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have fled their homes in an exodus that for many Palestinians has echoes of the mass displacement in 1948 that they refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Israel has said its campaign in Gaza is likely to last for months, vowing to dismantle Hamas across the territory and prevent a repeat of its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. Benny Gantz, a member of the country’s three-man War Cabinet, said the fighting “will be expanded, according to need, to additional centers and additional fronts.”
He and other Israeli officials also threatened greater military action against Lebanon’s Hezbollah, hiking fears of an all-out war on that front.
The two sides have exchanged fire almost daily across the border. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen warned Wednesday that “all options are on the table” if Hezbollah does not withdraw from the border area, as called for under a 2006 UN ceasefire.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah “must understand that he’s next,” Cohen said.
On foot or riding donkey carts loaded with belongings, a stream of people flowed into Deir al-Balah — a town that normally has a population of around 75,000. It has been overwhelmed by several hundred thousand people driven from northern Gaza as the region was pounded to rubble.