The Israeli military on Friday ordered the evacuation within 24 hours of the northern Gaza Strip, a region home to 1.1 million people – about half the territory’s population, a UN spokesman said.
This could be a sign of an impending ground offensive, although the Israeli military has not yet confirmed such a call. On Thursday it was said that no decision had been made regarding the preparations.
The order sent to the UN comes as Israel presses ahead with an offensive against Hamas militants. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the order “impossible” without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Earlier, the Israeli military pulverized the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, preparing for a possible ground invasion and declaring that the complete siege of the area – which has left Palestinians desperate for food, fuel and medicine – would remain in place until until the Hamas fighters are freed about 150 hostages taken during a gruesome weekend raid.
A visit from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with shipments of US weapons, gave Israel a strong green light to continue its retaliatory measures in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on civilians and soldiers, even as international aid groups warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Palestinian children injured in Israeli attacks are taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, October 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Ali Mahmoud)
Israel has stopped deliveries of essential goods and electricity to the 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip and prevented the import of goods from Egypt.
“Not a single power switch will be flipped, not a single faucet will be turned on and not a single tanker 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 on Thursday that the armed forces were “preparing for a ground exercise” should political leaders order one.
A Ground offensive in Gazawhich is ruled by Hamas and where the population is densely packed into a strip of land just 25 miles long, brutal urban fighting would likely result in even greater casualties on both sides.
The Hamas attack on Saturday and smaller attacks since then have claimed lives more than 1,300 people in Israelincluding 247 soldiers – a number not seen in Israel for decades – and the subsequent Israeli bombings have claimed lives more than 1,530 people in Gazaaccording to authorities on both sides.
Israel says about 1,500 Hamas fighters have been killed in Israel and that hundreds of those killed in Gaza were Hamas members. Thousands were injured on both sides.
As Israel bombs Gaza from the air, Hamas militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Amid concerns that fighting could spread to the region, This was reported by Syrian state media that Israeli airstrikes disabled two Syrian international airports on Thursday.
The relentless shelling of the Gaza Strip, which the military says has used 6,000 rounds of ammunition so far, has left Palestinians running through the streets carrying their belongings looking for security
A strike Thursday afternoon in the Jabaliya refugee camp tore down a residential building on families seeking refuge there, killing at least 45 people, Gaza’s Interior Ministry said. According to a list of victims, at least 23 of the dead were under 18, including a one-month-old child.
The al-Shihab family home was full of relatives who had fled bombings in other areas. Neighbors said a second house was hit at the same time, but the toll was not immediately known.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We can’t escape because wherever you go, you’re bombed,” said a neighbor, Khalil Abu Yahia. “It takes a miracle to survive here.”
The number of people forced from their homes by the airstrikes rose 25% in a day, reaching 423,000 in a population of 2.3 million, the United Nations said on Thursday. Most of them crowded into UN schools.
Families limited themselves to one meal a day, said Rami Swailem, a 34-year-old lecturer at Al-Azhar University, in whose home 32 relatives found refuge. Water has stopped flowing into the building for two days and they have rationed what is left in a tank on the roof.
Alaa Younis Abuel-Omrain remained in a UN school after an attack on her home killed eight members of her family – her mother, her aunt, a sister, a brother and his wife, and their three children. Most bakeries stopped producing bread due to a lack of electricity.
“Even if there is food in some areas, we can’t get there because of strikes,” she said.
On Wednesday, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel and shut down, leaving only lights powered by scattered private generators.
Hospitals, overwhelmed by a constant influx of wounded people and running out of supplies, only have a few days’ worth of fuel before the power goes out, aid workers say.
“Without electricity, hospitals risk becoming morgues,” said Fabrizio Carboni, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Neonatal incubators, kidney dialysis machines, X-ray machines and more all rely on electricity, he said.
Rescue workers bringing bodies to the mortuary of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, were unable to find space. Dozens of body bags were lined up in the hospital parking lot. Fourteen health facilities were damaged in strikes, health authorities said on Thursday.
With Israel sealing off the territory, the only way in or out is through the border crossing with Egypt at Rafah, but Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that airstrikes on Rafah had prevented the operation. Egypt has tried to persuade Israel and the United States to allow aid and fuel through the border crossing.
Israel is using a new tactic that involves razing entire neighborhoods, not just individual buildings. Hecht, the military spokesman, said the attack decisions were based on intelligence about locations used by Hamas and that civilians had been warned.
“Right now our focus is on taking out their leadership,” Hecht said. The military said the strikes hit Hamas’ elite forces in Nukhba, including command centers used by the militants in Saturday’s attack and the home of a senior Hamas naval agent where weapons were stored.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “smash” Hamas after the militants stormed into the south of the country on Saturday and massacred Hundreds of people, including the killing of children in their homes and young people at a music festival. Netanyahu said Hamas’s atrocities included the beheading of soldiers and the rape of women, descriptions that could not immediately be independently confirmed.
Amid the Israeli public’s grief and demands for revenge, the government is under intense pressure to overthrow Hamas rather than continuing to try to control it in Gaza.
In a video released Thursday, Hamas civilians defended the group’s rampage and lamented civilian deaths in Gaza from six days of Israeli airstrikes. The celebratory video lacked the bravado of a recording broadcast Saturday by Hamas’ military wing celebrating the “greatest battle” while the massacres were still ongoing.
Basem Naim, a former minister in the Hamas government, said that in Saturday’s “rapid collapse” of the Israeli military, “chaos reigned and civilians were in the middle of the confrontation.” This claim is contradicted by countless videos and survivor accounts showing Hamas militants targeting and killing civilians in Israel.
Naim added that there would be no action to release the 150 prisoners returned to Gaza as long as Israel’s operation continued.
Israel was a mourning nation. At a funeral for a 25-year-old woman who was killed along with at least 260 other people in a desert rave, and at another service for a slain Israeli soldier, mourners sat cross-legged on the floor next to coffins and quietly wailed or cried .
In Gaza, grieving families also buried together in shrouds. At a funeral, they placed the abused body of a little girl in the arms of her murdered father.
Growing anger over the failure of the Israeli military and intelligence agencies in the surprise attack is directed at Netanyahu’s far-right government, which for months pushed forward a controversial legal reform that divided the country and impacted the military.
In what appears to be the first admission of guilt by a member of the government, Israeli Education Minister Yoav Kisch told the Israeli news agency Ynet: “We bear responsibility.” As a member of the government, I bear responsibility. “We were dealing with nonsense.”
Israel’s public diplomacy minister resigned, the first rift in Netanyahu’s government since the attack.
Four previous conflicts ended with Hamas still in firm control of the territory it had ruled since 2007. Israel has mobilized 360,000 reservists, massed troops near Gaza and evacuated tens of thousands of residents from surrounding communities. A new war cabinet, including a long-time opposition politician, was sworn in on Thursday to lead the fight.
A senior Hamas official, Saleh Al-Arouri, warned on Thursday that any Israeli invasion of Gaza “will lead to a catastrophe for its army” and said the group was ready to respond.
Blinken’s visit underscored American support for Israel’s retaliation.
“You may be strong enough to defend yourself on your own, but as long as America exists, you will never have to do that,” Blinken said after meeting Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
Blinken said he told Netanyahu it was “so important to take every possible precaution to prevent harm to civilians.”
Blinken will also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose power is limited to parts of the occupied West Bank, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin planned to visit Israel on Friday.