FAO, WFP: Iraq One of the Countries Most Affected by Climate Change

Drought in one of Iraq’s marshes on October 8, 2022. (AFP)
Drought in one of Iraq’s marshes on October 8, 2022. (AFP)
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FAO, WFP: Iraq One of the Countries Most Affected by Climate Change

Drought in one of Iraq’s marshes on October 8, 2022. (AFP)
Drought in one of Iraq’s marshes on October 8, 2022. (AFP)

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) in Iraq issued a joint statement on the occasion of World Food Day on Monday on the future of Iraq’s agriculture and food security.

The statement was issued amid a drought wave hitting Iraq for the fourth consecutive year and an arbitrary water policy by upstream countries (Türkiye and Iran) towards Iraq.

The two agencies called for urgent action to address the root causes of today's food and water security crisis amid "limitless" challenges facing the world, including Iraq.

“Iraq has been experiencing increased drought for the past two years, brought about by the rising temperatures, reduced rainfall which is the lowest in 40 years in addition to reduced water flows in Tigris and the Euphrates rivers,” the statement said.

“This led to degradation of arable land, increased water, and soil salinity, which all contribute to serious loss of livelihoods and an increased pressure on the state national budget, which imports cereals to ensure enough food is available to the population.”

The statement quoted WFP Iraq Representative Ali Raza Qureshi as saying that Iraq remains one of the most affected countries globally by the adverse effects of climate change.

He warned that unless mitigation and adaptation are implemented, the future may not be promising for smallholder farmers and vulnerable groups in the country.

“We at WFP believe that food is the path towards peace and as such, serious action must be taken immediately by the government and the international community to adopt climate-smart food systems and long-term resilience building in order to ensure that Iraq and its people are able to navigate these testing times,” he said.

The statement noted that 20% of Iraq's workforce is engaged in the agricultural sector, which is the second largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) after the oil sector, accounting for 5% of the total GDP.

Thus, it stressed that the development of agriculture is critical to allow Iraq to achieve its vision of a more diversified economy, in addition to generating employment and boosting private sector engagement.

Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources complains that it does not receive sufficient funds to modernize the irrigation system, which would reduce waste in the already scarce water.

It further slams the lack of response from the upstream countries (Türkiye and Iran) to its request to hold talks regarding the water issue and the drought Iraq has been facing.

The Ministry’s advisor, Aoun Dhiab, told Iraq’s News Agency INA on Sunday that the two neighboring countries haven’t responded to any request to hold discussions regarding the quantities of water entering Iraq.

He said the issue was raised at high-level meetings, the latest of which was during the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Activists and specialists have recently launched a wide campaign to save swamplands threatened by drought.

According to the expert in water and marshes affairs, Jassim al-Asadi, the campaign aims to disclose the current conditions of marshes, such as drought, mismanagement of water, and the absence of government support.

Local officials in the marshlands underline the significant decline in these areas, in addition to the migration of dozens of families from rural areas to the city due to drought and lack of pastures, all of which have led to the deterioration of agriculture and the death of large numbers of buffaloes and cows.



Israeli Army Says Five Soldiers Have Died

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
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Israeli Army Says Five Soldiers Have Died

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS

The Israeli army said in a statement early on Sunday that five of its soldiers have died in the Gaza War.
Four soldiers were killed in the battle in Southern Gaza, while the fifth succumbed to his wounds after fighting on October 7, according to the Israeli army statement posted on X.


Ben-Gvir Calls On War Cabinet Not to Allow Palestinian Workers Back Into Israel

A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
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Ben-Gvir Calls On War Cabinet Not to Allow Palestinian Workers Back Into Israel

A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)

Israeli media outlets said Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called on the war cabinet not to allow the re-entry of Palestinian workers into Israel from the West Bank, as it deliberates the matter.

“Bringing workers from the Palestinian Authority, who are covered in incitement, into Israel now, is the continuation of the concept and understanding that we did not understand anything from October 7th!” Ben-Gvir wrote in a post on X.

Since the war began on October 7, only 5,000 Palestinian workers out of 100,000 previously given permits to take jobs in Israel and the occupied West Bank, have been allowed to enter Israel after being classified as essential.


Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah Vows More Attacks on US Forces

FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
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Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah Vows More Attacks on US Forces

FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo

Attacks by Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah militia against US interests on Friday are the start of "new rules of engagement," a security official from the group said in a social media post.

The Iran-aligned group, while not claiming responsibility for a rare attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on Friday, claimed the embassy was a forward operating base for planning military operations, Reuters reported.

The attack was condemned by the US and by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who said it was an act of terrorism against a diplomatic mission.

But Kataeb Hezbollah (KH) said the facility was a base involved in planning military operations. Those who described it as a diplomatic mission were "subservient" and self-interested, Abu Ali al-Askari, a security official from the group, said in a social media post.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a Friday call with Sudani, singled out KH and another group, Haraket Hezbollah al-Nujaba, for the recent targeting of US personnel and said the US reserved its right to respond.

US officials have reported more than 80 attacks against US interest in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, most claimed by an umbrella-group of Iran-aligned Iraqi militias over Washington's backing of Israel in its war in Gaza.

The group claimed 11 attacks against US forces on Friday, the most in a single day since they began in mid-October.

Sudani has ordered security forces to investigate the embassy attack and on Saturday replaced the regiment in charge of security in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone area where the attacks occurred, according to his office.

In an apparent challenge to Sudani, KH said that members of Iraq's security forces that were cooperating with US forces were "accomplices in its crimes".

As well as diplomatic staff in Iraq, the United States has about 2,500 troops in the country on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces battling remnants of ISIS, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both Iraq and Syria before being defeated.


Egyptians Head to the Polls

An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
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Egyptians Head to the Polls

An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)

Egyptians headed to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is poised to win a third term in power.
Voting, which runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (0700-1900 GMT), is spread over three days, with results due to be announced on Dec. 18.
As voting began on Sunday morning, small crowds gathered at polling stations in Cairo, where pictures of Sisi have proliferated in the weeks leading up to the election. Riot police were deployed at entrances to Tahrir Square in the center of the capital.
Three candidates are qualified to stand against Sisi in the election. Farid Zahran, leader of the left-leaning Egyptian Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, from the Wafd, a century-old but relatively marginal party; and Hazem Omar, from the Republican People's Party.
Approximately 67 million Egyptians are eligible to vote, according to the election authority, out of a total population of 104 million. 


Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
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Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI

Israeli forces pushed Sunday into southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled in search of shelter from bombardments and intense fighting with Hamas militants.
Aid groups have sounded the alarm on the "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory, warning it is on the brink of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation, AFP reported.
Hamas, which runs Gaza, said Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.
A source close to Hamas and Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad told AFP both groups were involved in "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces on Sunday near Khan Yunis. An AFP journalist reported strikes in the area.
At least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory, according to the latest figures from Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after the group's unprecedented attacks on October 7, when its fighters broke through Gaza's militarized border, killed about 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Israel on Saturday said 137 captives remained in the Palestinian territory.
With few options for safety, people across the Gaza Strip sought refuge in hospitals on Saturday.
In the northern Gaza City, an AFP journalist said thousands were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital, which is no longer functioning and partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.
Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.
Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the city's Shejaiya district, said he had fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.
"It was madness. A shell hit the house and wounded my 20-year-old son," he told AFP.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he said.
"We don't know if they will storm the hospital again."
In central Gaza, Hamas health authorities said Saturday that 71 dead bodies had arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah over 24 hours.
And in the south of the territory, 62 dead bodies had arrived at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, the health authorities said.
An AFP correspondent at the hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting for care on the floor, while firefighters outside tried to douse a burning building hit by an Israeli strike.
The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic", said Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.
'Death sentence for children'
An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced.
Blocked from leaving the narrow territory, they have turned Rafah, near the crossing with Egypt, into a vast camp.
The United Nations children's agency said Saturday that nearly one million children had been forcibly displaced by the conflict.
With fighting intensifying in southern Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek shelter, children are running out of safe places to go.
"They are now being pushed further and further south into tiny, overcrowded areas without water, food, or protection, putting them at increased risk of respiratory infections and waterborne disease," said Adele Khodr of UNICEF.
"The restrictions and challenges being placed on the delivery of lifesaving aid going into and across the Gaza Strip are another death sentence for children."
As alarm grew over Gaza's worsening humanitarian situation, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi urged his forces to "press harder" in their campaign.
"We're seeing more and more terrorists killed, more and more terrorists wounded, and in recent days we're seeing terrorists surrendering -- this is a sign their network's falling apart," he said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.
National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 "terrorists" had been killed, without elaborating on the source of the figure.
In Tel Aviv, some Israelis held a pro-peace demonstration.
Hundreds of others gathered in what has come to be known as Hostages Square, calling for action to save the captives held by Hamas with signs bearing messages such as "They trust us to get them out of hell".
The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue hostages on Thursday night.
Hamas said a hostage, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, later confirmed by his kibbutz community in Beeri, one of the worst hit on October 7.
UN force hit
A rare UN Security Council vote on a ceasefire in the conflict was vetoed on Friday by the United States, whose envoy Robert Wood said the proposal was "divorced from reality" and would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.
Iran, which backs Hamas, warned of an "uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region" following the veto.
In Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza.
The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates had shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the vessel from the coast of Yemen.
Regular exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have further fuelled fears of a wider regional conflict.
Israel's army said it retaliated on Saturday after unspecified "launches" from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.
A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.
Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the health ministry said three people were killed on Saturday.

The military earlier said it has arrested 2,200 people in the West Bank, 1,800 of them Hamas members, since the Israel-Hamas war began.


Israelis on Edge as Fears Grow of Wider Lebanon Conflict

A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
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Israelis on Edge as Fears Grow of Wider Lebanon Conflict

A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)
A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. (Reuters)

In northern Israel, residents fear a wider conflict emerging along the border with Lebanon, which snakes along a hill in the distance from Nahariya.

More than 120 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border since October 7, mostly Hezbollah fighters and more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israel says six of its soldiers and four Israeli civilians have been killed in the area, and Lebanon lost its first soldier in the exchanges on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that if it "chooses to start a global war, then it will turn Beirut and South Lebanon... into Gaza and Khan Yunis with its own hands."

Business has slumped along the Nahariya seafront, and many more rifles have appeared, slung over people's shoulders.

Resident Nathalie Betito, 44, believes Hezbollah fighters could infiltrate the border. But she made a point of celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, with around 100 people at the central synagogue this week.

She and her husband Arie, 47, immigrated from France five years ago. Nahariya represents an attractive destination, with special tax breaks due to its exposed position.

Arie, who now helps new arrivals at the town hall, said residents were nonetheless living in peril.

Hezbollah has thousands of "missiles pointed at us", he said, stressing that he did not believe in escalating the conflict into a "total" war.

"The price to pay would be huge," he said. "Neither side wants that."

But people in Nahariya are preparing for the worst. Efi Dayan, 60, said he "knows there's going to be a war here".

"We're getting ready with food, clothes. We're waiting for it," he said calmly under the winter sun.

But the military job in Gaza needs to be completed first, said Bussidan, a former soldier himself.

"We have to finish Hamas and take care of all civilians on both sides," he said.


Syria Strikes Kill 6 Civilians in Opposition Bastion, Says Monitor

Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
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Syria Strikes Kill 6 Civilians in Opposition Bastion, Says Monitor

Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP
Workers clear the rubble after the Syrian army bombardment in Idlib - AFP

Six civilians were killed and 25 others wounded on Saturday in Syrian army bombardment of the country's last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

"Regime forces directly targeted residential areas of the city of Idlib," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that industrial areas were also hit, as well as "residential areas in the town of Sarmin" nearby, AFP reported.

Six civilians, "including two children and a woman", were killed in Idlib and Sarmin, while 25 others were wounded in the strikes in various areas of Idlib province, added the Britain-based Observatory.

Government forces fired "more than 35 missiles" during the bombardment, it added.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, controls swathes of Idlib province and parts of the neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

HTS is considered a terrorist group by Damascus, as well as by the United States and the European Union.

Parts of the opposition bastion have seen fierce fighting in recent days, according to the Observatory.

On Friday, it said 11 pro-government forces and five HTS militants had been killed after the militants launched an attack in neighbouring Aleppo province a day earlier.

Late last month, Syrian government bombardment killed nine civilians including six children as they harvested olives in Idlib province, reported the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

Civil war erupted in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad crushed peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.

The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions after spiralling into a devastating war involving foreign armies, militias and militants.


UN Peacekeeping Position Hit in South Lebanon, No Casualties

Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
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UN Peacekeeping Position Hit in South Lebanon, No Casualties

Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)
Border fence between Lebanon and Israel (AFP)

A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.

Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) reported that an "Israeli Merkava tank" targeted the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) position near the border across from Metula in northern Israel.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said: "We did not aim at UNIFIL, we did not hit a UNIFIL position".

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the force was "verifying" the source of the fire, and said the incident caused "no casualties" but damaged a watchtower at the base.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the frontier between Lebanon and Israel has seen intensifying exchanges of fire, mainly between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, raising fears of a broader conflagration, AFP reported.

More than 120 people have been killed on the Lebanese side since October, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also including more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.

It was bolstered after Hezbollah and Israel fought a devastating war in 2006, and its roughly 10,000 peacekeepers are tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two sides.

Since the Hamas-Israel war began, UNIFIL has said its headquarters in southern Lebanon has been hit by shelling.

Late last month, UNIFIL said Israeli gunfire hit one of its patrols despite a temporary Hamas-Israel truce largely quietening the Lebanon-Israel border at that time.


Abbas Says US Veto Makes it Complicit in Israeli 'War Crimes'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets  with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.  (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
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Abbas Says US Veto Makes it Complicit in Israeli 'War Crimes'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets  with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.  (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in the West Bank city Ramallah, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution demanding a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza made it complicit in what he described as war crimes against Palestinians.

Abbas also said he held the US responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and the elderly in the Gaza Strip, a statement released by the presidency said.

The United States wielded its UN Security Council veto on Friday to shield Israel from a global demand for a ceasefire.
Thirteen of the Security Council's 15 members voted for the resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that was blocked by Washington. Britain abstained.


Intensified Fighting Across Gaza as Israel Orders More Evacuations in Khan Younis

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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Intensified Fighting Across Gaza as Israel Orders More Evacuations in Khan Younis

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 9, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Israel pounded the Gaza Strip from north to south on Saturday in an expanded phase of its two-month-old war against Hamas as it ordered residents out of the center of the enclave's main southern city Khan Younis.

Israel's Arabic-language spokesperson posted a map on X highlighting six numbered blocks of Khan Younis that residents were told to evacuate "urgently". They included parts of the city center that had not been subject to such orders before. No explanation was given.
Israel issued similar warnings at the start of this week before storming the eastern parts of the city. Residents said they feared new evacuation orders heralded a further assault.

Since a truce collapsed last week, Israel has expanded its ground campaign into the southern half of the Gaza Strip by launching the storming of Khan Younis. Simultaneously, both sides have reported a surge in fighting in the north.

The vast majority of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have already been forced from their homes, many fleeing multiple times. With fighting raging across the length of the territory, residents and UN agencies say there is now effectively nowhere safe to go, though Israel disputes this.

Israel has blocked Gazans from fleeing along the main north-south route down the spine of the narrow strip, and is shunting them instead towards the Mediterranean coast.

Fighting in the north has been its most intense in parts of Gaza City and settlements on its northern edge, where huge explosions could be seen from across the fence in Israel.