Israel’s military on October 13 directed the evacuation of northern Gaza, a region that is home to 1.1 million people — about half of the territory’s population — within 24 hours, a U.N. spokesman said.
This could signal an impending ground offensive, though the Israeli military has not yet confirmed such an appeal. On Thursday it said that while it was preparing, a decision has not yet been made.
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.
“Not a single electricity switch will be flipped on, not a single faucet will be turned on and not a single fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said on social media.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Thursday that forces “are preparing for a ground maneuver” should political leaders order one.
A ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas and where the population is densely packed into a sliver of land only 40 kilometers (25 miles) long, would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.
U.N. wants Israel to rescind the order
The United Nations was informed that Israel has told 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to relocate to the south of the territory within 24 hours, a UN spokesperson told AFP, calling for the order to be rescinded on humanitarian grounds.
UN officials working in Gaza were informed by the Israeli military “that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general told AFP, adding that this amounts to approximately 1.1 million people.
Dujarric said the same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities — including schools, health centers and clinics.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is sheltering more than 60% 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.
“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” Dujarric said.
“The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
On Saturday, Hamas gunmen swept into small towns, kibbutzim and a music festival in Israel, indiscriminately killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 150 hostages.
Israel has retaliated by raining air and artillery strikes on Gaza \— a densely populated enclave of 2.3 million people — flattening buildings and killing more than 1,400 people, many of them civilians.
A Security Council meeting on the conflict has been called for Friday.