Senior Israeli military officials have acknowledged that there had been about two civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip for every Hamas militant killed.
They also said that the army was using cutting-edge mapping software to try to lower the number of non-combatant deaths as it advances into southern Gaza.
Since Israel launched its military operation in response to Hamas attacks on 7 October, around 15,900 people have died, the most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
Asked about media reports that 5,000 Hamas fighters had been killed, one of the senior officials told reporters at a briefing: “The numbers are more or less right.
“I’m not saying it’s not bad that we have a ratio of 2 to 1.”
The official added that the use of human shields was part of Hamas’ “core strategy” in the conflict.
“Hopefully it (the ratio) will be much lower” in the coming phase of the war,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The rising death toll and unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza have sparked outrage in much of the world.
Israel’s military began bombarding targets in the Gaza Strip, alongside a ground invasion, with the aim of eradicating Hamas after its fighters carried out the worst attack in Israel’s history on 7 October.
Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people and kidnapped about 240 others in that attack, according to Israeli officials.
‘Consequences of war’
Key ally the US has cautioned Israel to do more to avert civilian casualties as operations shift to the south, where many Gazans are seeking refuge after fleeing the devastated north.
To that end, the Israeli officials said the army was using high-tech mapping software to track population movements inside the Gaza Strip and issue evacuation orders.
The system incorporates mobile phone and other signals, aerial surveillance and word from local sources, as well as artificial intelligence, to maintain a constantly updating map showing population concentrations across the territory.
Each of the map’s 623 cells are color-coded, with green designating areas where at least 75% of the population has evacuated.
“In the south, because we have basically doubled the population, operations are much more precise,” the official said.
“We are taking much more time to make sure our efforts (at warning civilians) are effective.”
The map — which the military says is the product of eight years of research and development — is available to commanders and units on the ground.
The map is used to coordinate efforts to warn civilians to leave certain areas ahead of impending strikes via text messages, phone calls, leaflet drops and other announcements, and to track the effectiveness of such messaging in real time.
It is similar to one made available online that the military says is intended to enable Gazans to “evacuate from specific places for their safety if required.”
But the United Nations humanitarian office, OCHA, has questioned the usefulness of such a tool in an area where access to telecommunications and electricity is sporadic.
On Monday night, the main telecom company in the Gaza Strip said mobile telephone and internet services had been cut across the territory.
“I can assure you that we’re doing everything in our power to reduce civilian casualties,” the official said. “But this is part of the consequences of war.”
Israeli troops continue to battle Hamas militants into the southern Gaza Strip after expanding their offensive deeper into the besieged territory, with warnings that an “even more hellish scenario” was unfolding for trapped civilians.
Israel had initially focused its offensive on the north of the territory, but the army is now also dropping leaflets on parts of the south, telling Palestinian civilians there to flee to other areas.
Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen on Monday near the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, which is packed with civilians who fled their homes further north in the territory earlier in the war, witnesses told AFP.
The army said Monday it was taking “aggressive” action against “Hamas and other terrorist organizations” in Khan Yunis, warning that the main road in the north and east of the city “constitutes a battlefield.”
Hamas claimed via Telegram its militants had targeted two personnel carriers and a tank near Khan Yunis.
Rocket salvos were again fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory.
As the war spreads, international aid organizations have warned that civilians in the densely populated territory are running out of places to flee to.
“Nowhere is safe in Gaza and there is nowhere left to go,” said Lynn Hastings, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.
“If possible, an even more hellish scenario is about to unfold, one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond,” Hastings said in a statement.
‘Like an earthquake’
In the city of Rafah near the Egyptian border, resident Abu Jahar al-Hajj said an air strike near his home felt “like an earthquake.”
“Pieces of concrete started falling on us,” he said.
In Deir al-Balah further to the north, Walaa Abu Libda found shelter at a hospital, but said her four-year-old daughter remained trapped under rubble.
“I don’t know if she is dead or alive,” said Libda, one of an estimated 1.8 million people displaced in Gaza — roughly three-quarters of the population, according to U.N. figures.
The Israeli army on Tuesday denied telling the World Health Organization to empty an aid warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours before ground operations in the area render it unusable.
On Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X that his organization had received a notification from the military “that we should remove our supplies from our medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours.”
Israel on Monday said it was not seeking to force Palestinian civilians to permanently leave their homes, but that it was instead seeking support from aid groups to improve infrastructure in a tiny coastal area of Gaza named Al-Mawasi.
The latest fighting followed the collapse last Friday of a Qatar-mediated truce that saw scores of Israeli and other hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
According to the Israeli military, at least 137 hostages are still being held in Gaza, but Hamas has ruled out more releases until a permanent ceasefire is agreed.
With several women still among the hostages, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said one of the reasons why the truce fell apart could be that Hamas did not want them to “talk about what happened to them during their time” in captivity.
Israeli police have been exploring evidence of sexual violence against women during the October 7 attacks.
A senior police officer recently told Israel’s parliament that an inquiry had gathered more than 1,500 testimonies. Allegations include gang rape and post-mortem mutilation.
The war has sparked fears of a wider regional conflict, with frequent exchanges of fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah across Israel’s border with Lebanon.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military said its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah positions in Lebanon in response to launches on Monday from Lebanon into Israel.
The Israel-occupied West Bank has also seen a surge in violence, with more than 250 Palestinians killed there since the war began, according to Palestinian authorities.
With inputs from agencies