The Israeli military on Friday warned over 1 million residents of Gaza to evacuate the city and move to the south within the next 24 hours, according to the United Nations, amidst mounting fears of a major ground offensive.
While the Israeli military has not yet issued any comments on the warning, it has begun massing tanks near the Gaza border and continued intensive bombardment of the city, which began after Hamas targeted the south of Israel last week, leaving 1,200 dead and 3,300 others injured. In response, Israel has vowed war, killing over 1,500 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, and displacing over 400,000 others. Among the casualties are paramedics and journalists.
“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesperson, said in a statement, adding the U.N. strongly appeals for any such order to be rescinded to avoid the tragedy into devolving into calamity.
According to Dujarric, the Israeli military’s warning also applied to all U.N. staff and those sheltered in U.N. facilities, including schools, health centers and clinics. Since the launch of the offensive, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have sheltered In U.N. facilities as Israeli airstrikes raze their homes to the ground, with no let-up in sight.
Seemingly confirming the U.N. apprehensions, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan claimed the global body’s response to “Israel’s early warning to the residents of Gaza is shameful.”
However, a statement by Hamas claimed the relocation warning was an attempt by Israel “to broadcast and pass on fake propaganda, aiming to sow confusion among citizens and harm our internal cohesion.” A spokesperson urged citizens not to engage and remain sheltered in place.
Ahead of the Israeli warning, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted that fuel for emergency generators at hospitals in Gaza was running out, while the United Nations World Food Program said food and fresh water were at dangerously low levels. “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.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in its military operations in Gaza and Lebanon—a war crime—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.”
The U.N.’s humanitarian response office, OCHA, said on Friday that over 400,000 people had fled their homes in the Gaza Strip and 23 aid workers had been killed since the start of the Israeli airstrikes. “Mass displacement continues. In the Gaza Strip, the cumulative number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) increased by 25 percent over the past 24 hours, now exceeding 423,000, of whom over two-thirds are taking shelter in UNRWA schools,” it said, referring to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency.
The U.N. has issued an emergency appeal for $294 million to address “the most urgent needs” in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, aimed at helping more than 1.2 million people. OCHA further said drinking water levels were now so low that some people had already begun drinking seawater.
Gazans have suffered economic collapse and repeated Israeli bombardment under a blockade since Hamas seized power there 16 years ago. Their apartheid existence has triggered mounting anger in recent months, strengthening extremists.