Israel continued its “intensive battles” in Gaza Wednesday, despite heightened fears that its war with Hamas will widen after a senior leader in the terror group was killed in Lebanon a day prior.
Saleh Al-Arouri, the deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, was killed during an airstrike in Beirut Tuesday.
His death caused fears of the conflict spreading beyond the two countries to skyrocket as Israel continued its offensive in the territory Wednesday, saying there have been “intensive battles” with militants in Khan Younis to flush out Hamas from the area.
Israeli planes dropped orders to civilians to leave seven districts as residents and Palestinian media claimed the Israel Defense Forces bombed the Al-Nuseirat refugee camp overnight and destroyed several buildings.
“You are in a dangerous combat area. The IDF is operating heavily in your area of residence. For your safety the IDF urge you to immediately evacuate this area,” the leaflets said.
Israel has also stepped up its attack on the Al-Bureij refugee camp by sending in planes and tanks. Hamas claimed to have hit five tanks and troop carriers.
The terrorist group said it killed 10 Israeli soldiers while fighting. Israel has said it has lost 177 soldiers since the start of the war.
In addition, Israel conducted an airstrike in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp, which health officials said killed four. Another three were killed after an airstrike on a house in Rafah in Gaza.
Israel has said it would try to avoid civilian deaths after backlash from world leaders, who raised concern over the number of Palestinian casualties.
As of Wednesday, more than 22,000 Palestinians have died, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and military.
Despite its strong offensive after the New Year, Israel has not confirmed or denied if its forces killed Arouri, but spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the Israel Defense Forces are “in a very high state of readiness in all arenas.”
“We are highly prepared for any scenario. The most important thing to say tonight is that we are focused and remain focused on fighting Hamas,” he wrote on X Tuesday.
Arouri, 57, who lived in Beirut, was the first senior political leader of the terrorist group to be killed since the war started on Oct. 7.
He is considered one of the founding members of the group’s military wing.
Hamas military leaders, Samir Findi Abu Amer and Azzam Al-Aqraa Abu Ammar, were also killed in the attack, according to the group.
“We say to the criminal occupation (Israel) that the battle between us is open,” Hamas politburo member Hossam Badran said in a eulogy for the fallen leader.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the airstrike, saying the “explosion is a new Israeli crime.” He also accused the Jewish state of attacking Lebanon as a way to draw them into the war.
“We call on the concerned countries to put pressure on Israel to stop its targeting. We also warn against the Israeli political level resorting to exporting its failures in Gaza to the southern [Lebanese] border,” the leader said, according to CNN.
The attack marks Israel’s biggest strike on Beirut, the country’s capital, since 2006 when the two were at war, according to CNN.
As the conflict rages on, it has expanded in the occupied West Bank and has caused tension with Hezbollah forces on the Lebanon-Israel border, as well as affecting Red Sea shipping lanes.
Hezbollah Chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had previously warned Israel that carrying out assassinations on Lebanese soil would result in a “severe reaction.”
Hezbollah is a Hamas ally and its forces have been exchanging frequent fire with Israel at its southern border since October.
Those on a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon have said that any escalation “could have devastating consequences for people on both sides of the border.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has stressed the need to prevent conflict from widening in the region and told a US Congress delegate that his priority is a cease-fire in Gaza.
Hamas also still holds more than 100 Israelis hostage and said they would not release them until a permanent cease-fire was agreed upon.
The terror organization has threatened to kill the remaining hostages if more aid isn’t brought into Gaza and prisoner exchanges are not met.
Israel has vowed to continue fighting until Hamas has been wiped out but has not revealed its post-war plans for Gaza