Israel’s military has warned 1.1 million people living in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes, amid signs Israel is set to ramp up its retaliatory offensive against Hamas following the group’s October 7 terror attacks.
Gaza is already one of the world’s most densely populated pieces of land, with more than 2 million people crammed into 140 square miles. Now, the entire population is being told to move into the southern part of the strip – an order the UN has described as “impossible.”
“Civilians of Gaza City, evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said.
“In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City and make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians.”
Images on social media Friday showed that the IDF had dropped leaflets from planes into Gaza calling for the evacuation south. Live footage from news agencies earlier showed leaflets falling from the sky.
“For your safety, you should not return home until further notice from the IDF,” the leaflet said. “All public shelters known in Gaza have to be vacated,” it added.
The United Nations on Thursday said it was informed by their liaison officers in the Israeli military that “the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours.”
CNN footage on Friday showed civilians in Gaza City, Deir el Balah and elsewhere in northern Gaza cramming their possessions into cars, taxis and pickup trucks and driving south on the highway.
Footage showed many families had taken heed of the IDF’s warning. Some had strapped several mattresses to car roofs. Others drove with the trunk and doors open to take as many people and possessions as they could. Some were even seen sitting on the hood as families drove through the city. Others simply walked, carrying as much as they could in bags.
Israel has admitted that the mass migration order will take time, with IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner telling CNN Friday that any deadline “may slip.”
The UN has decried such an order, saying it’s impossible for civilians to evacuate “without devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said in a statement that the UN “strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
The order applies to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities – including schools, health centers and clinics, according to the statement.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) described Israel’s call to move Gaza civilians as “horrendous” on Friday, adding that the enclave is fast becoming a “hell hole and is on the brink of collapse.”
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that the relocation of Gaza civilians amounts “to the war crime of forcible transfer.” Secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said the order “must be reversed.”
But the IDF has accused Hamas of “hiding behind the people of Gaza” and of instructing civilians to “ignore” Israel’s warnings to evacuate to the south.” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said during a briefing that it was “just another example” of how Hamas “does not care about the safety of people in Gaza.”
Gaza’s borders have been blockaded for years by Israel and Egypt. Gaza City is part of the coastal strip and is particularly crowded.
It is unclear if or when Israel plans to launch a potential ground incursion into Gaza but for days Israel has been massing hundreds of thousands of troops, reservists and military equipment at the border while it ramps up its siege and aerial bombardment of the enclave.
Calls are growing for the opening of a humanitarian corridor in Gaza so civilians can access basic supplies such as water, food, fuel and medicine amid warnings from UN experts that residents are at risk of starvation.
The Rafah Crossing connects Gaza to Egypt and is currently the only corridor through which Palestinians or aid can pass in and out of Gaza.
Jordanian and Egyptian officials are applying “diplomatic and political pressure on the Israeli government to allow for the safe passage of aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing,” a senior Jordanian official told CNN Thursday.
While the Egyptian side of the Rafah border is open, the source told CNN, the Palestinian side of the border is “non-functional” following multiple Israeli airstrikes.
The source said Jordanians and Egyptians are waiting for security clearance from Israel to allow trucks to cross without threat of another airstrike.
And a senior US State Department official said Friday that the US continues to press the Egyptian and Israeli governments on “the importance of the Rafah crossing being open for American citizens and foreign nationals” who want to leave.
AFRO WORLD NEWS