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Israel’s military returns to portion of Gaza City where it says Hamas regrouped

Smoke rise over the Gaza Strip as seen from a position on the Israeli side of the border on July 8 in southern Israel. More than nine months have passed since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.  (Getty Images)
By Hiba Yazbek and Abu Bakr Bashir New York Times

The Israeli military said Monday that it had started a new ground operation in Gaza City overnight, the latest in a series of raids targeting areas where it says Hamas militants have reestablished themselves since Israeli forces turned their focus to other parts of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian news media reported heavy bombardment and the presence of Israeli troops as thousands of Palestinians evacuated the area.

The ground operation was prompted by “intelligence indicating the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure, operatives, weapons, and investigation and detention rooms,” the military said in a statement.

It added that the area it had moved into included the headquarters of the main United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA. Juliette Touma, the agency’s communications director, said it did not have any information about the military’s actions, but she noted that the agency had left its headquarters in October.

Israeli forces have repeatedly found themselves returning to parts of Gaza that they had previously left, especially in the north, which they invaded in October, as Hamas regroups amid the chaos of the nine-month war. The fighting has flared even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken of a new, less intense phase of the war.

The operation shows that Israel is still struggling to achieve one of its stated objectives in the war: wiping out Hamas, which organized and led the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that set off the war in Gaza.

The military said it had warned civilians about its activity and opened a “defined route” for their evacuation. Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, reported “a massive exodus of thousands” of Palestinians from the area toward the northwestern neighborhoods of Gaza City.

The agency said Israeli military vehicles had entered areas in southwestern Gaza City, including the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood and the southern outskirts of the upscale Rimal neighborhood. It added that residents reported heavy aircraft and artillery fire that killed and wounded dozens of people.

Ahmed Saleh, 44, who lives near Rimal with 13 family members, said in a phone interview that the strikes began suddenly, “all kinds of strikes — tank shelling, artillery and aircraft.” He said they began receiving calls and text messages from the Israeli military telling them to evacuate, but only after the bombardment had begun.

Saleh said he managed to grab a bag with important documents and some clothes before fleeing with his family, including his 70-year-old mother, whose wheelchair broke on the way because of the bombed-out roads.

After borrowing another wheelchair, the family walked for another hour amid continued strikes, until they arrived at the house of Saleh’s sister outside the evacuation zone.

Saleh said that while fleeing his neighborhood, he saw “dozens of people” who had been killed or injured. He told people along the way to move west, “but they had to go east to collect their stuff and rescue their families,” he said. Many were caught in the bombardment, and “no one could reach them for help,” he said.

The Palestine Red Crescent said in a statement that its emergency and rescue teams had evacuated at least 30 wounded people from a hospital in the Rimal neighborhood to the Indonesian Hospital, which is outside the evacuation zone.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.