DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (NEWSnet/AP) — The Israeli military said Wednesday it has ordered the evacuation of Gaza City, a region that was an early target during its war with Hamas.

The military dropped leaflets on the city, calling on civilians to head south and saying “Gaza City will remain a dangerous combat zone.”

 

The evacuation order came as U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators were meeting with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks trying to push through a long elusive cease-fire deal.

Israel says it is pursuing Hamas fighters regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the military’s devastating campaign of airstrikes and ground offensives. But the heavy strikes the length of the territory also could be aimed at hiking up pressure on Hamas in the cease-fire efforts.

Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to flee south months ago as it operated in the area. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have remained in the hard-hit north, and many Palestinians say they have nowhere to go. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza.

Also on Wednesday, Israeli airstrikes killed 20 Palestinians in central Gaza, including six children and three women, some of them inside a purported “safe zone” declared by the Israeli military, hospital authorities said.

There have been ongoing talks led by the international community to urge Israel and Hamas into a cease fire and hostage exchange agreement since the start of their war on Oct. 7; challenges remain despite some progress in recent days.

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