The Israeli army on Tuesday continued its assault on the southern Gaza Strip, as its forces appeared to be approaching the main city of Khan Yunis, amid growing concerns that there was almost nowhere for civilians to flee.
In the days after the seven-day truce collapsed, Biden administration officials said they warned Israel to work harder to avoid harming civilians in Gaza than it did in the first weeks of the war, and the IDF appears to be heeding that advice.
But more than 300 people were killed in Gaza every day between Saturday and Monday, according to figures released by Gaza health officials, a daily toll similar to that in the weeks before the war. United Nations Humanitarian Office He said The period from Sunday to Monday afternoon “saw some of the heaviest bombing operations in Gaza to date.”
Two experts on the laws of war said they had not seen major changes in recent days in the way Israel has waged its war in Gaza, largely because its warnings to civilians to stay out of harm’s way appeared ineffective and the scope of its campaign made it unclear. If anywhere in Gaza is truly safe.
“I do not have the sense that the renewed Israeli operations differ significantly from previous operations in terms of seeking to minimize the risk of harm to civilians,” Brian Finucane, a former legal adviser at the State Department who is now a senior adviser to the US program at the International Crisis Group, said.
Since Israel resumed its bombing campaign, with a new focus on southern Gaza, much of its new effort to protect civilians revolves around its publication on Friday of an online map dividing Gaza into hundreds of small sectors. In the days that followed, military officials posted information on social media about which sectors of Gaza residents should evacuate and where they should go.
Matthew Miller, a US State Department spokesman, said on Monday that although it was too early to make final assessments, the United States saw signs that Israel was implementing changes discussed by both sides to limit civilian casualties, including limiting mass displacement.
Miller said that before Israeli forces invaded northern Gaza in late October, they issued a blanket order for the northern region — which was home to more than a million people — to evacuate their homes. Publication of the map represented a “more targeted request for evacuations” which was “an improvement on what came before.”
But the evacuation orders have confounded Gazans, many of whom cannot access the map or instructions published by Israel because their electricity is cut off and their internet and cell phone service is abysmal. Some who followed the orders found themselves in already overcrowded areas without shelter or toilets.
Omar Shaker, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said warnings are an important way to protect civilians from armed conflict, and a more accurate map is in principle more useful than broad evacuation orders. But he said that the new Israeli regime is not much better than its predecessor.
“There is no reliable safe way to go and no reliable safe place in Gaza, so even if they tell you that this area is relatively safe, air strikes continue to hit almost all parts of Gaza,” he said.
What also puts civilians at risk is Israel’s continued use of bombs and heavy artillery in densely populated areas, a tactic that “magnifies the risk of civilian deaths,” Mr. Shaker said. In addition, he said that Israel is still destroying entire residential complexes without clarifying the military objectives of such strikes.
Israel said that its war aims to destroy Hamas and that its forces are making great efforts to protect civilians. It blames the extent of the destruction that has occurred in Gaza on Hamas, saying that its fighters are mingling with the civilian population, effectively using them as human shields, and fighting from civilian areas.
Health authorities in Gaza say that more than 15,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the war. Although they do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, they say that most of the dead are women and children.
Speaking in Dubai on Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris urged Israeli forces to show restraint, though she declined to say whether she believed Israel was following US directives to fight more carefully to avoid harming civilians.
She added: “But I will say that we have been very clear about our position on this matter, which is that the lives of innocent civilians should not be deliberately targeted, and that Israel must do more to protect the lives of innocent people.”
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