Israel Orders Further Evacuations in Gaza as Army Battles Hamas in Shajaiye

Early in the war against Hamas, as Israeli forces made their way from the northern Gaza Strip to the south, a neighborhood of Gaza City called Shajaiye loomed over the battle. In December, nine soldiers were killed there in what the Israeli army said was one of the deadliest days of the war for its forces.

Later, with Shajaiye devastated and Gaza city apparently pacified, soldiers moved in, eventually taking the fighting to Gaza's southernmost city, Rafah, described as Hamas's last major stronghold. In turn, Palestinian civilians who had fled the fighting in Gaza City began to return.

On Thursday they were on the run again.

Israel ordered people in part of eastern Gaza City to evacuate as Palestinian officials and residents reported heavy attacks and numerous casualties. People in the area described a frantic effort to get out as explosions rang out around them. Palestinian officials said the attacks had hit Shajaiye.

The Israeli military said on Friday it had launched an operation in Shajaiye targeting Hamas fighters and infrastructure. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said between 60,000 and 80,000 people had been displaced overnight from areas east and northeast of Gaza City.

Mohammad al-Bahrawi, 65, who had returned with his family to their home in Shajaiye months ago, said on Thursday: “We heard explosions from every direction.” He said a “storm” of people had been unleashed.

“I couldn't even believe there were still so many people in Shajaiye,” Mr. al-Bahrawi said.

The operation is part of a broader war effort in which Israel has been struggling to achieve its stated goal: to wipe out Hamas, which organized and led the October 7 attacks on Israeli territory that sparked the war in Gaza.

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

Frustration is growing in Israel and around the world over what critics say is Mr. Netanyahu's failure to present a plan for how Gaza should be governed if Hamas is defeated.

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said the key to defeating a counterinsurgency is known by the abbreviation “clear, hold, build.”

The Israelis “thought about day one — killing the bad guys — but they didn’t focus on the next steps,” Byman said. “That was unforgivable even in October and November. Now there are fewer and fewer excuses.”

Gaza health authorities said Thursday that 15 people were killed and dozens injured in Shajaiye. The Civil Defense, the Palestinian emergency service, said five homes were hit in Shajaiye and another neighborhood, and that a search for missing people was underway. The toll could not be independently verified.

Mohammed Qraiqea, a researcher with the human rights group Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, who was in Shajaiye, witnessed what he described as artillery shelling, airstrikes and drone fire on Thursday. He also said he saw Israeli tanks on the eastern edge of Gaza City.

“The tanks have advanced in a limited way, so far, on the outskirts of the neighborhood,” he said Thursday afternoon. By then, she said, most people had been evacuated.

Israeli troops invaded northern Gaza in October, seizing control of the territory and pushing southward while conquering Hamas strongholds, but have yet to decisively defeat the armed group. Shajaiye, one of Gaza City’s largest neighborhoods, is home to a battalion that is considered one of the strongest in Hamas’s military wing. It is unclear how large a presence Hamas has there now.

Seth Krummrich, a retired U.S. Army colonel and vice president of Global Guardian, an international security services provider, echoed critics who say Israel is struggling because of its inability to come up with a plan to administer Gaza.

“They have a much bigger problem in front of them than behind them,” Mr. Krummrich said. “The real problem is trying to fix Gaza and make it stable in the future.”

Myra Novec contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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