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Israel warns more than 1 million people to evacuate northern Gaza

The order from Israel faced immediate international objections, including from the U.N., which warned such an evacuation would have “devastating humanitarian consequences.”

Palestinians with their belongings flee from their homes following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on Friday.
Palestinians with their belongings flee from their homes following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on Friday. Mahmud Hams | AFP via Getty Images
Updated October 13, 2023 at 6:01 AM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — The fighting between Israel and Hamas entered a seventh day on Friday with fears of a ground offensive growing stronger following an Israeli order to evacuate the northern region of the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military told the United Nations late Thursday that all of northern Gaza’s population needs to evacuate to the southern portion of the enclave, a U.N. spokesman said. The Israeli order gave 24 hours for more than 1 million people, nearly half of Gaza’s population, to evacuate. The Israeli order applied to all U.N. staff and those sheltered in U.N. facilities — including schools, health centers and clinics.

Within hours of the order, Israel faced opposition, both from Hamas and on the international stage. “The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” the U.N. said.

Human Rights Watch said the roads are rubble, fuel is scarce, and the main hospital is in the evacuation zone, making it difficult for people to leave and head south.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the Israeli military demanding that over 1 million civilians in northern Gaza relocate to its south, “absent of any guarantees of safety or return, would amount to the war crime of forcible transfer.”

Meanwhile, the Hamas leadership called on Palestinians to ignore the Israeli order. “We say to the citizens of northern Gaza and Gaza City, remain steadfast in your homes,” said Hamas interior ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bozom, because Israel’s goal, he said was to “displace us once again from our land …”

UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said early Friday on the social media site X that it had moved its operations center and international staff to the southern part of Gaza.

It remains unclear how hospitals and clinics in northern Gaza, treating the stream of wounded victims from near-constant bombings, could be evacuated. Hospitals are already at full capacity across Gaza.

Some 1,500 Palestinians have died in the violence, one-third of them children.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were already displaced before the Israeli order, many sheltering in U.N.-run schools. The entire territory is under full Israeli siege, with no one allowed out and no fuel, food or even water allowed in. The main Gaza power plant has completely shut.

A simultaneous crisis unfolding is the dwindling food and water supplies that will run out in the next few days in U.N.-run shelters, Lynn Hastings, United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, told NPR. She said the majority of Palestinians in Gaza do not have access to safe drinking water now, not even bottled water.

An emergency responder carries a wounded child in a hospital following Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Friday.
An emergency responder carries a wounded child in a hospital following Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Friday. Said Khatib | AFP via Getty Images

Israel’s evacuation order comes as it presses its military campaign against Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip and anticipation grows of a coming Israeli ground assault in Gaza. Israel has been bombarding Gaza all week in retaliation to last weekend’s deadly incursion into Israel by Hamas militants. Israel’s military has not yet announced a decision on a ground assault.

The order also comes as the U.S. ramps up its diplomatic and military support for Israel in the wake of the unprecedented attacks by Hamas that killed at least 1,300 people over the weekend.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to arrive in Israel on Friday, following Thursday’s arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Earlier Friday, Blinken met with King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan, and was meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian capital. Blinken is visiting five Arab states over the next few days, as he tries to contain the conflict in Gaza.

Palestinian officials say more than 1,500 people have died in the strikes, and the United Nations reports that 340,000 Palestinians have been displaced. Those numbers will surely rise: Scores of people were killed overnight in Gaza. In one attack, 17 people were killed in a bombing of a house in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Rescue workers were struggling to reach all the areas hit by Israeli bombs.

Family and friends of Livnat Levi, who was taken hostage by Hamas during an attack on Israel, hold up large photos of her as they are interviewed ahead of a press conference on Friday in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Family and friends of Livnat Levi, who was taken hostage by Hamas during an attack on Israel, hold up large photos of her as they are interviewed ahead of a press conference on Friday in Tel Aviv, Israel. Leon Neal | Getty Images

Hamas’ military wing, Ezzedin Al Qassam Brigades, said 13 hostages, among them foreigners, were killed by intense Israeli bombardment in different places of Gaza in just the past 24 hours. That brings to 17 the number the group says were killed by Israeli fire since Saturday.

An Israeli siege continued to block the transport of food, water and humanitarian supplies into the territory.

Israel said Thursday it would not lift its siege of Gaza — even for the transport of humanitarian aid — until Hamas releases all remaining hostages. Between 100 and 150 people, including an unknown number of Americans, are believed to be held by the Islamist militant group that rules the Palestinian territory.

The U.S. diplomatic efforts come as concerns are growing the chaos — the worst outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza in recent memory — could spread to the occupied West Bank and different countries across the Middle East.

Blinken has urged Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians in Gaza as it retaliates.

“We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard, even when it’s difficult,” Blinken said.

Israeli officials say the bombardment campaign is necessary to stamp out Hamas and defend Israel.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Thursday his country has the right to defend itself after the deadly attacks.

“I agree there are many, many Palestinians who don’t agree to this. But unfortunately, in their homes there are missiles shooting at us, [at] my children, on the entire nation of Israel. We have to defend ourselves,” he said while speaking to reporters.

Current fighting began last weekend

The current war began last weekend when Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack from Gaza into Israel during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Militants infiltrated Israel’s border Saturday using paragliders, motorbikes and boats and fired thousands of rockets toward the country from Gaza. They overran a police station and military positions, and a group gunned down revelers at a dance music festival near Israel’s border with Gaza, killing more than 200 people. Others raided gated communities and shot families dead, and Israeli officials estimate they took at least 100 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

At least 27 U.S. citizens were killed in the Hamas attacks and 15 Americans are currently unaccounted for, a White House spokesperson said Thursday. Charter flights to evacuate U.S. citizens who remain in Israel will begin Friday. Other countries, such as China, France and the United Kingdom, have also reported citizens killed or missing in the conflict.

NPR’s Kevin Drew contributed to this report.

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