GAZA – As Israel’s military called for all civilians of Gaza City, more than one million people, to relocate south within 24 hours on Friday, the UN urged Tel Aviv to call off the order, warning of the “devastating humanitarian consequences”.
The order came as Israel amassed tanks near the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground invasion.
“Now is a time for war,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday as Israeli warplanes continued pounding Gaza in retaliation for the deadliest attack by Hamas fighters in its history.
- Israel gives civilians in Gaza City 24 hours to evacuate southward
- UN urges Israel to call off order, says it can’t take place without ‘devastating human consequences’
- WHO says moving severely ill people, including those on life support, amounts to a ‘death sentence’
- Over 1,500 Gazans killed in Israeli bombardment, 423,000 Palestinians displaced; 5 Palestinians killed today during rallies in West Bank
- Israeli death toll from Hamas offensive rises to 1,300
The Israeli military said it would operate “significantly” in Gaza City in the coming days and civilians would only be able to return when another announcement was made.
“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 military said in a statement.
“Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City inside tunnels underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians.”
Hamas, on the other hand, rejected the Israeli order. The US termed it a “tall order”.
“Our Palestinian people reject the threat of the occupation (Israeli) leaders and its call for them to leave their homes and flee from them to the south or Egypt,” Hamas said in a statement.
“We are steadfast on our land and in our homes and our cities. There will be no displacement,” it said.
Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas which led the offensive on Saturday, but a ground invasion of Gaza poses serious risk with Hamas holding scores of hostages kidnapped in the assault. Public broadcaster Kan said the Israeli death toll had risen to more than 1,300.
The Israeli military said in a statement on Friday that it struck “750 military targets” in northern Gaza overnight, including what it claimed were Hamas tunnels, military compounds, residences of senior operatives and weapons storage warehouses. Since Saturday, it has rained 6,000 bombs on Gaza, flattening entire neighbourhoods.
Gaza authorities said more than 1,500 Palestinians had been killed. In a statement today, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said Gaza is facing a humanitarian and health catastrophe.
Kaila urged all countries and human rights groups to help with the immediate entry of medical and emergency aid to the blockaded Palestinian enclave.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian health ministry said at least five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire across the occupied West Bank during rallies in solidarity with war-battered Gaza.
Deaths were recorded in Tulkarm, Nablus, Beit Ula and Tammun, the health ministry said in separate statements.
Israel has put Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, under siege.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said fuel powering emergency generators at hospitals in Gaza could run out within hours and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned food and fresh water were running dangerously low.
“The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent, and I implore the sides to reduce the suffering of civilians,” ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni said.
In Gaza’s main southern city Khan Younis, where cemeteries were already full, dead were being buried in empty lots, like the Samour family, killed on Wednesday night in a strike that hit their house.
Palestinian rescue worker Ibrahim Hamdan drove from one bomb site to another as his team tried to pull survivors from houses destroyed by the Israeli air strikes.
“This war is harsh beyond imagining,” said Hamdan, who has worked through repeated wars since becoming a rescuer in 2007. “They knock down high-rise buildings on top of their residents.”
Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in its military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, saying the use of such weapons puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injury.
Israel’s military said it was “currently not aware of the use of weapons containing white phosphorus in Gaza”.
Gazans, mainly descendants of refugees who fled or were expelled from homes in Israel at its founding in 1948, have suffered economic collapse and repeated Israeli bombardment under a blockade since Hamas seized power there 16 years ago.
Palestinian anger has mounted in recent months, with Israel carrying out the deadliest crackdown for years in the West Bank and its right-wing government talking of seizing more land. A peace process meant to create a Palestinian state collapsed a decade ago, which Palestinian leaders say left the population with no hope, strengthening extremists.
The UN said it considered it impossible for such a movement to take place “without devastating humanitarian consequences”.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told AFP 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”.
Dujarric said the army’s evacuation order applies to all UN staff and those sheltering in UN facilities — including schools, health centres and clinics.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is sheltering more than 60 per cent of the 423,000 people displaced in recent days in the Gaza Strip. It was not immediately clear how many people were currently located north of Wadi Gaza.
World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed grave concern over the critical situation in Gaza, highlighting that hospitals in the region are at a “breaking point.”
The WHO has been informed by the Gaza Health Ministry that evacuating vulnerable patients from hospitals in Northern Gaza has become an impossible task due to the dire circumstances.
Furthermore, the WHO emphasised the severity of moving critically ill individuals within Gaza, including those dependent on life support, labelling such actions tantamount to a “death sentence” given the current health infrastructure’s precarious state.
US Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said on X that the Israeli demand was unacceptable and must be halted.
“Any person can see that ordering 1+ million people to move in under 24 hours is not possible. It is unacceptable. The UN has already deemed the order ‘impossible’ without ‘devastating humanitarian consequences’. Humanity is at stake. Nearly half are children. We must halt this,” she said.
The challenge of moving half of the enclave’s population in such a short amount of time was highlighted by Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum, who said: “You are talking about more than one million Palestinians who will leave their houses and move to the south of the Gaza Strip, an area that isn’t really [big] enough to host this massive number of displaced people.
“It would be hard for them to move in this great number. The space in the Gaza Strip only contains around 365 square kilometres. You’re talking about half of the population [who] will move to live in half of the space they used to live in.”
“This is chaos, no one understands what to do,” said Inas Hamdan, an officer at the UN 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, The Associated Press reported.
The UN announced that its agency for Palestinian refugees is moving operations and foreign staff to southern Gaza.
“UNRWA relocated its central operations centre and international staff to the south to continue its humanitarian operations and support to its staff and Palestine Refugees in Gaza,” the agency wrote on Twitter, rebranded X.
Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza City, said there was no way more than one million people could be safely moved that fast, the report added.
“Forget about food, forget about electricity, forget about fuel. The only concern now is just if … you’re going to live,” Farsakh said, breaking into heaving sobs. “What will happen to our patients?” she asked. “We have wounded, we have elderly, we have children who are in hospitals.”
Farsakh said many of the medics were refusing to evacuate hospitals and abandon patients. Instead, she said, they called their colleagues to say goodbye, AP reported.
A Security Council meeting on the issue has been called for Friday. Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan termed the UN’s response to the evacuation call as “shameful”.
“For many years, the UN has turned a blind eye to the arming of Hamas and its use of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a hiding place for its weapons and murder,” Erdan claimed in a note from his office to AFP.
“Now, instead of standing by Israel … it preaches to Israel”. “It is better for the UN to focus now on returning the hostages, condemning Hamas, and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself,” he said.
The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency described Israel’s call to move more than one million civilians in northern Gaza in 24 hours as “horrendous” and said the enclave was rapidly becoming a “hell hole”.
“The call from the Israelis Forces to move more than one million civilians living in northern Gaza within 24 hours is horrendous,” Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said in a statement.
“This will only lead to unprecedented levels of misery and further push people in Gaza into abyss.” Lazzarini said more than 423,000 people have already been displaced, and more than 270,000 had taken refuge in UNRWA shelters.
“The scale and speed of the unfolding humanitarian crisis is bone-chilling,” he said. “Gaza is fast becoming a hell hole and is on the brink of collapse.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza would result in a level of civilian casualties that would be “absolutely unacceptable”.
Putin, whose own military has wrought devastation in Ukraine and killed thousands of civilians in nearly 20 months of war, said that using heavy weaponry in residential areas was “fraught with serious consequences for all sides”.
“And most importantly, the civilian casualties will be absolutely unacceptable. Now the main thing is to stop the bloodshed,” he said, speaking at a summit in Kyrgyzstan with other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
Putin said, however, that Israel had the right to defend itself after being subjected to “an attack unprecedented in its cruelty”.
He called for collective efforts to secure an early ceasefire and stabilise the situation on the ground.
“Russia is ready to coordinate with all constructively minded partners,” Putin said.
He said negotiations should be directed towards a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict in which Palestinians would get their own state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Putin repeated previous criticism of the United States, saying the current tragedy was the outcome of the failure of US policy in the Middle East.
The OCHA said early on Friday that more than 400,000 people had fled their homes in the Gaza Strip and 23 aid workers had been killed since the start of Israeli retaliatory strikes in response to a deadly Hamas incursion.
“Mass displacement continues. In the Gaza Strip, the cumulative number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) increased by 25pc over the past 24 hours, now exceeding 423,000, of whom over two-thirds are taking shelter in UNRWA schools,” OCHA said, referring to the UN Palestinian refugee agency.
It said 23 aid workers had so far been killed since the weekend, including 11 health workers and 12 UNRWA employees.
The UN on Thursday issued an emergency appeal for $294m to address “the most urgent needs” in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where more than 400,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in recent days.
The funds would be used to help more than 1.2m people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, adding that recent fighting in the region had left aid groups without adequate resources.
Humanitarian needs compounded by the May 2023 escalation in Gaza and the deterioration of the situation in the West Bank “have left humanitarian organisations without the resources required to adequately respond to the full range of needs of vulnerable Palestinians,” OCHA said in its appeal.
The UN has previously estimated it would need $502 to fund operations to aid 2.1m Palestinians in 2023, a goal that is less than 50pc financed.
Nearly 60pc of households in Gaza were considered food insecure before the start of the new hostilities.
After Israeli strikes on water infrastructure and the cessation of water supplied by Israel to the enclave since Sunday, “most residents in the Gaza Strip no longer have access to drinking water from service providers or domestic water through pipelines,” OCHA said.
“Unicef reports some have already begun drinking seawater” in response, it added.
Additionally, “health facilities are overwhelmed, medical stocks are in short supply and access to hospitals and medical care is being hindered by the ongoing hostilities and damaged roads.”
Gaza is home to some 50,000 pregnant women — 5,500 of whom are due to give birth in the coming month — “who are struggling to access essential health services as healthcare workers, hospitals and clinics come under attack”.
While much of the focus has been on Gaza, “the situation in the West Bank remains tense”, OCHA said, citing confrontations between the military and Palestinians, “settler violence” and “extensive closures… imposed around West Bank cities” impacting access to essential services.
PPP leader and former minister Sherry Rehman called on Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Ahmed Ameen today and called for an “immediate ceasefire” of the war.
She also condoled the killing of 1500 innocent Palestinians, including 500 children.
In a post on social media platform X, Sherry said: “While terrorism is condemnable in all forms, impunity for entire states to besiege unarmed civilians without water, food or fuel while raining hellfire on entire populations is illegal and reprehensible on many levels.”
Israel immediately needs to end this inhuman blockade of Gaza and stop its 24-hour evacuation warning for 1.1 million Palestinians in the north, she said.
“An immediate ceasefire is needed otherwise, unlawful, brutal evacuations will become the new normal, which is against all international norms,” Sherry stressed, adding that an “inclusive two-state solution” was the only way forward for a lasting resolution to the crisis.
The president of Brazil, who holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, has appealed to his Israeli counterpart for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to enable people in the Gaza Strip to flee to Egypt, he said on Thursday.
The comments by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva add Brazil to the voices of European foreign ministers and the World Health Organisation that have called for the establishment of a route to either allow people to flee the Palestinian enclave or let humanitarian aid flow in.
“I recently spoke on the phone with the President of Israel Isaac Herzog,” Lula said on X, formerly Twitter. “I conveyed my call for a humanitarian corridor so that people who want to leave the Gaza Strip through Egypt can be safe.”
Fellow South American leader Nicolas Maduro, of Venezuela, called on Thursday for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, after condemning what he said was a “massive violation of human rights” in Gaza.
“From Venezuela, we ratify our vocation of solidarity with the people of Palestine,” Maduro said.
Lula, in his tweet, said he “reaffirmed Brazil’s condemnation of the terrorist attacks and our solidarity with the families of the victims.”
“I asked the President for all possible initiatives to ensure that there is no shortage of water, electricity and medicines in hospitals,” he added.
Seeking to build support for its response, Israel’s government showed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nato defence ministers graphic images of children and civilians they said Hamas had killed in a weekend rampage in Israel.
Blinken said they showed a baby “riddled with bullets”, soldiers beheaded and young people burned in their cars.
“It’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way,” he said. “It’s really beyond anything that we can comprehend.”
Like others across the globe, Blinken urged Israel to show restraint, but he also reiterated America’s support, saying: “We will always be there by your side.”
On Friday, he was due to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as part of a Middle East tour aimed at stopping spillover from the war.
Blinken also planned to visit key US allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, said lessons would be drawn from the security failures around Gaza that enabled the attack. “We will learn, investigate, but now is the time for war,” he said.
The US military is placing no conditions on its security assistance to Israel, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, adding Washington expected Israel’s military to “do the right things” in prosecuting its war against Hamas.
Austin was due in Israel on Friday and planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas called on Palestinians to rise up on Friday in protest at Israel’s bombardment of the enclave, urging Palestinians to march to East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and clash with Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank.
Israel’s parliament approved Netanyahu’s emergency unity government late on Thursday, including a number of centrist opposition lawmakers, to display the country’s united determination to fight Hamas.
North Korea denied on Friday its weapons were used by Hamas in the attack against Israel, saying the claim made in some media reports was a bid by Washington to divert the blame for the conflict from itself to a third country.
The US State Department will begin offering charter flights to Europe to help Americans leave Israel if they want starting Friday, the White House said.
Japan has arranged for a charter flight to depart Tel Aviv on Saturday for its citizens wishing to leave Israel, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Friday.
The conflict spurred some civil unrest in Europe, with police in Paris using tear gas and water cannon to break up a banned rally in support of the Palestinian people. Some Jewish schools in Amsterdam and London were set to close temporarily due to safety concerns.
US law enforcement officials in New York and Los Angeles said they had a stepped up police presence for Friday, especially around synagogues and Jewish community centres, but some officials sought to play down the threat.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, an Arab advocacy group, said on Thursday that FBI agents had visited mosques in different states and individual US residents with Palestinian roots, calling it a “troubling trend.“In Jerusalem, scores of Israelis gathered at the Mount Herzl military cemetery on Thursday to bury their dead.
“When you didn’t take my call, I knew you were fighting with all your power. When I realised you were missing, I could not imagine this is how it would end,” one mourner said. -Agencies