GAZASTRIP, Palestinian Territories — Thousands of Palestinians took refuge Saturday after Israel warned them to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground offensive against Hamas, a week after the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.
The Islamist group’s militants shot, stabbed and burned more than 1,300 people in the attack that Israel carried out compared to 9/11 in the United States. This led to a massive retaliatory campaign against Hamas, killing more than 2,200 people in Gaza.
Concern over the fate of Palestinian civilians in blockaded and besieged Gaza – one of the most densely populated areas in the world, home to 2.4 million people – has grown as it becomes the scene of intense urban fighting and house-to-house fighting.
“The situation in Gaza has reached a dangerous new low,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “Even wars have rules,” he added, emphasizing that “civilians must be protected and also never used as shields.”
Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas, has massed ground troops and tanks around Gaza, dropped leaflets in the north of the enclave telling civilians to flee, and organized “local” raids “to clear the area of terrorists and weapons the army said. said.
The raids have also aimed to locate “missing persons” in Gaza, the military said, while Hamas has held about 150 hostages whose families have watched the escalating war with increasing terror.
Israel has pounded Gaza targets with thousands of attacks over the past week, killing at least 2,215 Gazans in the Palestinian enclave by Saturday, including 724 children, according to the Health Ministry.
“We are waking up to the killing and killing under the bombs,” said Mohamed Abu Ali, a resident of the area. “We don’t know where to go, where it is safe. We have no food, water or electricity.”
In Geneva, the Red Cross said the unjustifiable “heinous” attacks on Israel could not justify “the limitless destruction of Gaza.”
‘Just the beginning’
Israel is reeling from its bloodiest attack ever on the country and mourning the 1,300 victims it recovered from southern towns and kibbutz communities, which soldiers cleared in battles that killed 1,500 Hamas militants.
In the community of Beeri alone, just outside Gaza, more than 100 people were killed, while about 270, mostly young people, were shot or burned in their cars at the nearby Supernova music festival.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Israeli bombardment so far was “just the beginning” of the campaign to crush Hamas, a group that seeks Israel’s destruction and which he has likened to the Islamic State group.
In one strike, Israeli military aircraft killed Ali Qadi, a company commander of the Hamas ‘Nukhba’ commando force involved in the October 7 attack, a statement said on Saturday.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Saturday that Israeli forces were now “in formation… around the Gaza Strip, in the south, in the center and in the north.”
“We will probably evolve into even more significant combat operations,” he said. “If we do, remember how this started… All this was created by Hamas.”
With its evacuation order, Conricus said, Israel had “announced our intentions in advance, not because it has any military logic – it doesn’t – but because we want civilians not to be affected by the war… they are not our enemy.”
He accused Hamas of using Gaza civilians as “their human shields.”
Fear of hostages
Panic and fear gripped the rubble-strewn streets of Gaza, where hospitals were overwhelmed with bloody victims and morgues struggled to cope.
More than 1,300 buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, the UN said on Saturday, as more explosions shook the ground and billowed plumes of smoke over Gaza City.
“What does the world want from us?” asked a Palestinian resident, Mohamed Khaled, 43. “I am a refugee in Gaza and they want to displace me again?”
A looming ground invasion in Gaza has only increased fears for the 150 hostages Hamas is holding and has threatened to kill in response to unannounced Israeli attacks on civilian targets.
“I just want him back, to see him and hug him,” said Kanyarat Suriyasri, the wife of a Thai hostage taken by Hamas. “The rest is not important.”
The militant group said on Friday that 13 hostages had been killed in Israeli attacks, but offered no evidence.
US President Joe Biden spoke to the families of fourteen Americans missing since the Hamas attack, telling CBS’s “60 Minutes”: “We’re going to do everything we can to find them.”
The Israeli military has confirmed that it has contacted the families of 120 civilian hostages so far.
Egypt and Israel have now agreed to allow US citizens to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, said a US official accompanying Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a regional tour.
The official said the United States had not yet confirmed that the agreement was being implemented, “but the intention was to keep it open.”
Wave of protests
The Hamas attack and the resulting war – the fifth in Gaza in fifteen years – have turned politics in the Middle East upside down.
Tensions have risen over angry protests in support of Palestinians that took place Friday in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and many other countries.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of committing “genocide” in Gaza, while clashes in the occupied West Bank have killed 53 Palestinians over the past week.
Netanyahu’s spokeswoman Tal Heinrich told AFP: “Everything that happens in Gaza is Hamas’s responsibility.”
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said expelling Gaza residents would be “akin to a second Nakba” or “catastrophe,” referring to the 760,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war that sparked the creation of Israel.
The United States has expressed strong support for Israel and sent military aid, while Blinken has been on a regional tour aimed at keeping calm in the Arab world.
Israel faces the threat of a separate confrontation in the north with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon after repeated outbreaks of cross-border violence for days.
A Reuters video journalist was killed and six other reporters – from AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera – were injured in southern Lebanon, close to Israel, caught up in cross-border shelling.
Israeli forces said on Saturday they had killed several “terrorists” who tried to cross the border and also “hit a Hezbollah terror target in southern Lebanon” in response to a drone crossing the border.
The Israeli army dropped flyers on Friday warning residents of northern Gaza to flee “immediately” to areas south of Wadi Gaza, with the arrows pointing south on a map of the 40 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide area.
There was confusion over the timeline for the mass evacuation order following reports over a 24-hour period.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said a plan to evacuate more than a million people in one day was “completely impossible to implement”.
The Israeli army stressed on Saturday that Gaza City residents should not delay their departure before an offensive begins, as roads from the northern part of the area were again gridlocked with people leaving.
Military spokesman Richard Hecht said there is a “window” for safe passage to southern Gaza between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., without saying how many days this window would last.
“We know this is going to take time, but we encourage people not to delay,” Hecht told reporters.
Thousands of Gazans are on the road seeking safety, with plastic bags full of belongings, suitcases on their shoulders and children in their arms.
Palestinians cannot leave the enclave which is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, which has not opened its Rafah crossing with Gaza to refugees.
The head of the Arab League, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said the Israeli order is a “forced transfer” that constitutes “a crime.”
Concerns about regional stability have prompted the United States to send additional ammunition to Israel and the largest aircraft carrier to the region.
Biden has issued stern warnings to other regional powers not to get involved.
Israel’s arch-enemy Iran has long supported Hamas financially and militarily and praised the attack but insists it was not involved.
In a sign of the regional turmoil, Saudi Arabia has “decided to pause discussions on possible normalization” of ties with Israel, a source familiar with the discussions told AFP.
The Biden administration had pushed Saudi Arabia and Israel to establish diplomatic ties, following similar agreements with a few other Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates.
What we know about Israel’s war with Hamas