The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped leaflets on Gaza, ordering residents to flee within 24 hours, ahead of an expected ground operation in the territory.
“You have to vacate your homes immediately and head to the south of Wadi Gaza,” the leaflet said, according to postings on social media.
On Friday civilians were reportedly fleeing northern Gaza by cars and trucks as well as by foot.
About 1.1 million people live in the Northern area of Gaza, and the United Nations’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the U.N. “considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences. The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded, avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
That sparked an angry response from Israel. Its Ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, said that Israel is just trying to minimize harm to Gazans, adding, “for many years the U.N. has turned a blind eye to the army of Hamas and the use of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a hiding place for weapons in murder.”
According to the BBC, the Israeli military said it knew it would take longer than 24 hours to move all civilians from the area, but the IDF blamed Hamas for telling people to ignore the call.
Israel’s own victims of Hamas’ attack may be in the targeted area as well as citizens of other nations, as Hamas is holding as many as 150 people hostage in locations across Gaza, according to the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Earlier this week, Hamas threatened to execute a hostage every time an Israeli airstrike hits Gazans in their homes.
On Thursday a state relief agency in Jordan said the first plane carrying medical aid for Gazans had taken off for Egypt. The medicine and supplies were then to be delivered to medical authorities in the territory through the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza.
Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing with Egypt. On Tuesday, Palestinian officials in Gaza said it had been closed due to Israeli airstrikes. Whether or not the Rafah crossing is open remained unclear.