Thousands flee their homes as Israeli forces bomb southern Gaza

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Eight Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded when Israeli forces bombarded several areas of Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, health officials said on Tuesday, as thousands of people fled their homes under fire.

The Israeli army had ordered residents of several towns and villages in eastern Khan Younis to evacuate their homes on Monday, prior to tanks re-entering the area the military had left several weeks ago.

Thousands who had not heeded the call were forced to flee in the dark overnight, as Israeli tanks and planes bombed Karara, Abassan and other areas that had been named in the evacuation orders, residents and Hamas media said.

The Israeli military said its forces had struck areas in Khan Younis from where around 20 rockets had been fired on Monday. Targets included weapon storage facilities and operational centres, it added.

It said measures were taken before the strikes to ensure civilians were unharmed by enabling them to evacuate from the area, referring to the evacuation orders. The military accused Hamas of using civilian infrastructure and the wider population as human shields, a which the group denies.

Within the areas subject to evacuation orders was the European Gaza Hospital, which serves both Khan Younis and Rafah, and medical officials had to evacuate patients and families who had taken shelter in the facility, witnesses and medics said.

Some residents headed west towards the Mawasi area by the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area but is overcrowded by displaced families. Some slept in the street as they could not find shelter.

Israel has signalled that its operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt, that was meant to stamp out Hamas in its final redoubt would soon be concluded.

After the intense phase of the war is over, its forces will focus on smaller-scale operations meant to stop Hamas from regrouping, officials say.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was nearing its goal of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007. Less intense operations would continue, he said.

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