Early Friday, Israel’s military delivered sweeping evacuation orders for almost half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people ahead of a feared ground offensive aiming to eradicate the Hamas militant group after its grisly assault into Israel, U.N. officials said.
The directive induced panic among civilians and aid workers who were already grappling with Israeli airstrikes and a blockade.
The Israeli military sent one evacuation order directly Friday morning, cautioning the hundreds of thousands of civilians of Gaza City to flee deeper south into the Gaza Strip, a narrow coastal territory. Israel’s directive charged that Hamas militants were hiding in tunnels under the city.
“This evacuation is for your own safety,” the Israeli military said, in a warning it said was sent to Gaza City civilians.
Shortly before midnight, the United Nations reported that it had received a distinct communication from the Israeli military, instructing the 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to evacuate south within 24 hours.
“This is chaos, no one understands what to do,” said Inas Hamdan, an officer at the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza City, while she grabbed whatever she could throw into her bags as the panicked shouts of her relatives could be heard around her.
She said all the U.N. staff in Gaza City and northern Gaza had been told to evacuate south to Rafah.
Nebal Farsakh, representing the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza City, expressed doubts about the feasibility of rapidly relocating over a million people safely.
“Forget about food, forget about electricity, forget about fuel. The only concern now is just if you make it, if you’re going to live,” Farsakh said, breaking into heaving sobs.
The order, delivered to the U.N. comes as Israel presses an offensive against Hamas militants. U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric called the order “impossible” without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Earlier, the Israeli military pulverized the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, prepared for a possible ground invasion and said its complete siege of the territory — which has left Palestinians desperate for food, fuel and medicine — would remain in place until Hamas militants free some 150 hostages taken during a grisly weekend incursion.
A visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with shipments of U.S. weapons, offered a powerful green light to Israel to drive ahead with its retaliation in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on civilians and soldiers, even as international aid groups warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Israel has halted deliveries of basic necessities and electricity to Gaza’s 2.3 million people and prevented entry of supplies from Egypt.