Israel calls for evacuation of 1mn people from northern Gaza

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Israel’s military on Friday called for the evacuation of Palestinians from the northern Gaza strip to southern Gaza, in a move the UN said would affect 1.1mn people and could result in a “calamitous situation”.

The warning came on the seventh day of Israel’s war against the militant group Hamas, which rules the enclave. Israel launched air strikes on Gaza after armed gunmen stormed into Israel on Saturday, killing more than 1,200 civilians and soldiers and kidnapping dozens more. 

Israel has cut water, power and fuel supplies to the blockaded territory, which is home to more than 2mn people.

“The IDF calls for the evacuation of all civilians from Gaza City . . . from their homes, southwards, for their own safety and protection, and to move to the area south of . . . the River Gaza, as shown on the map,” Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said in an online briefing.

Earlier, the UN said that Israeli military liaison officers had briefed it on the plans, and said that the same order applied to its own staff in Gaza and to tens of thousands of displaced people sheltering in UN facilities, including schools, health centres and clinics. It called on Israel to rescind the order.

“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement, warning that it could “transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation”.

The UN said team leaders of the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Safety and Security in Gaza “were informed by their liaison officers in the Israeli military that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours”.

Israel this week mobilised 360,000 reservists in response to the October 7 attacks, and ahead of an expected ground incursion into Gaza, which Hamas has ruled since 2007. Gaza’s residents are blocked from leaving by severe travel restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt and Israel’s military blockade.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said on Thursday that the enclave’s health system had begun to collapse and that the death toll from Israel’s attacks was rising, with 1,354 Palestinians killed and 6,049 injured since the beginning of the military escalation. 

It released photos of what appeared to be gravely injured children being treated in crowded hospital conditions, including on the floor. Gaza’s main power station ran out of fuel this week.

Israel-Hamas war

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the swearing-in of a new war cabinet in the Knesset on Thursday that Saturday had been “the most harrowing day since the Holocaust for the Jewish people” and warned that “difficult days await”. 

IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi said that Israel was striking Gaza with “full force” and warned that “Gaza will not look the same” after the current war. 

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, on a visit to Jerusalem, said Israel had the right to defend itself “to ensure that this never happens again” but also urged it to take “every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians”.

The surprise weekend attack by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad gunmen, the biggest single mass killing of Israelis since 1948, traumatised the country and caught one of the Middle East’s most formidable armies unprepared. 

Amid mounting criticism of its lack of preparation, the IDF on Thursday evening released a video showing what it said was the rescue of about 250 people from a military outpost in southern Israel that had been overrun by Hamas fighters by elite military commandos on the first day of the attacks. The FT was not able to independently verify Israeli military claims.

Additional reporting by Neri Zilber in Tel Aviv

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