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Israeli Military’s Renewed Warnings Leave Palestinians in Northern Gaza in Peril

Israeli Military Kills Five Palestinians Attempting to Return to Devastated Homes in Gaza Strip

Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip (AP) – The Israeli military renewed warnings on Monday for Palestinians not to return to northern Gaza, a day after witnesses and medical officials said Israeli troops opened fire and killed five people among throngs of displaced residents trying to walk back to their homes in the devastated area.

Severity of the Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from the north after Israeli forces first launched their offensive there soon after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. In the months of fighting since, vast parts of the north have been flattened, including much of Gaza City. The United Nations reports that after months of Israeli restrictions on aid to the north, some 300,000 Palestinians who remained there are on the brink of famine.

Still, many Palestinians have longed to return, expressing their discontent with the condition of displacement. Families have been living in crowded tent camps, converted schools, and crowded homes of relatives throughout the southern region of the Gaza Strip. However, concerns are rising among those in the southernmost town, Rafah, as Israeli authorities plan to eventually attack the area to eradicate Hamas.

Israel’s Position and Planned Offensive

Late Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with top officials to prepare for the planned offensive in Rafah. This move has stirred international opposition, as the United States and the international community have voiced strong objections, arguing that the offensive will endanger the estimated 1.4 million Palestinians currently sheltered in Rafah. Gallant’s office stated that the meeting focused on strategies to ensure the safe evacuation of civilians and increased provision of food and medical supplies to Gaza.

Despite the decrease in the number of Israeli troops in Gaza, Israel has consistently rejected calls to allow Palestinians back into the north, citing the presence of Hamas militants. While the Israeli military claims to have weakened the militants’ control over the north, it continues to conduct airstrikes and raids to counter what it perceives to be reorganizing militants. Last month, Israeli troops raided Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, in a two-week-long operation that left the facility in ruins.

Israeli military spokesman, Avichay Adraee, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, advising Palestinians to stay in southern Gaza due to the north being a “dangerous combat zone.”

Following Sunday’s shootings, people have seemingly heeded the new warning. Thousands of Palestinians attempted to return to the north via Gaza’s coastal road on foot or donkey carts. However, Israeli troops opened fire as the crowds approached the checkpoints, resulting in five casualties and 54 injured. The Israeli military has yet to comment on the incident, and the cause of the shooting remains unclear.

Fleeing the Danger

Witnesses reported that as they approached the Wadi Gaza checkpoint, a woman covered in blood urged them to turn back, warning them of the imminent danger. Ignoring her pleas, the crowd proceeded but soon faced intense gunfire and shelling. Multiple witnesses claim to have seen Israeli troops firing at the crowd. The troops allegedly allowed some women and children to pass through to the north but opened fire when a group of young men attempted to cross.

Witnesses shared their accounts of the tragic events. Farida Al-Ghoul (27) stated that they pressed forward but quickly encountered heavy gunfire and shelling. Her testimony was supported by Karam Abu Jasser, who mentioned the panic among women and children due to gunshots and shelling at the checkpoint. Abu Jasser and his family are taking refuge in a shelter, despite their damaged home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the north.

The Return of the Population and Peace Talks

The return of Palestinians to northern Gaza has become a major point of contention in ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Israel aims to delay the return to prevent militant groups from regrouping in the north. Conversely, Hamas insists on ensuring the unrestricted return of Palestinians, demanding a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and an end to the war. A top Hamas official, Izzat al-Risheq, argued that a permanent ceasefire is the only way to protect their people and prevent further bloodshed and atrocities.

The war has had a devastating toll on the Gaza population, with the majority of the territory’s 2.3 million people displaced, enduring dire conditions with limited food and no end in sight to their suffering. Extensive damage from bombardments and ground offensives has left many Palestinians with no habitable homes to return to.

The dire humanitarian crisis affecting Gaza has driven more than one million people to the brink of starvation, particularly in the hard-hit northern region. Despite efforts to deliver aid trucks into the north, distribution difficulties persist, impeding the much-needed support. In a small success, the United Nations Food Agency announced the delivery of fuel and wheat flour to a bakery in isolated Gaza City, the first distribution since the war began.

Humanitarian Toll and Unclear Casualty Figures

The six months of fighting in Gaza have resulted in a staggering number of casualties, with over 33,700 Palestinians killed and more than 76,200 wounded, as reported by the Gaza Health Ministry. The majority of the casualties are women and children, accounting for two-thirds of the dead. Additional reports highlight the absence of differentiation between civilians and combatants. In contrast, Israel claims to have killed more than 12,000 militants, though no substantiating evidence has been provided.

For more updates, visit AP’s Coverage of the Israel-Hamas War.

Magdy reported from Cairo.

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