In a significant move, the Israeli military has announced a six-hour window for Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate their homes and move southward along specific routes. This decision comes as Israel is amassing troops near the border, raising concerns about a potential ground assault.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued the evacuation order on Friday, urging over one million residents in northern Gaza to leave their homes. In the past week, the IDF had already displaced over 400,000 Palestinians due to the ongoing conflict with Hamas, an Islamist militant group, following the deadly attacks on October 7.
However, this evacuation order has sparked criticism from various rights groups, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which expressed concerns about the potentially “catastrophic humanitarian consequences.”
The IDF’s Arabic spokesperson, Avishay Adraee, shared the statement on social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), announcing the six-hour window for civilians to move south safely from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. The IDF argued that Hamas leaders in the area had taken precautions to protect themselves from strikes.
But there is uncertainty about how effectively this message has reached Gazan citizens due to ongoing electricity and internet blackouts. When asked how the announcement was communicated to Gazans, IDF spokesperson Maj. Doron Spielman claimed that “everybody in Gaza City now knows exactly what’s happening,” mentioning that notifications were provided in Arabic and multiple languages through various platforms.
Despite this, some individuals on the ground, including a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school official, a paramedic, and a journalist, reported being unaware of the announcement.
In the midst of this turmoil, videos from the scene showed a large explosion along one of the evacuation routes in Gaza City, with casualties and extensive destruction. The cause of this devastation remains unclear.
In response to the situation, Palestinian-Americans have been waiting at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, but there has been confusion and delays in the opening of the border, as stated by several waiting individuals.
With over two million residents, including more than one million children, living in the densely populated Gaza Strip, images have shown people rushing southward in an attempt to escape the escalating conflict. Civilians have packed into various modes of transportation, from cars to donkey-pulled carts, while others have walked carrying whatever possessions they could.
The evacuation order has been met with tragedy, as Israeli airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of 70 evacuees and injuries to 200 more, according to Hamas’ media office.
Moreover, some healthcare facilities have refused to comply with Israel’s evacuation orders, fearing that leaving would be a “death sentence” for their patients.
The UN has declared the situation in Gaza a matter of “life and death,” as the region faces shortages of clean water, food, and medical care. There is increasing concern about the spread of waterborne diseases due to a lack of access to clean water.
As Israel continues to mass troops and equipment at the border, the IDF has not disclosed the specifics of the operation it is preparing for or when it might occur. UN officials have been given conflicting information about the timeline for relocating Gaza residents, adding to the uncertainty.
The evacuation order has raised international concern and condemnation from rights groups, who argue that the order is inhumane and endangers civilians.
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, and the current situation has worsened the already dire conditions in the region, with limited access to basic necessities. The last remaining corridor for Palestinians to flee or receive aid connects Gaza to Egypt, but its operational status is uncertain.
As the crisis deepens, the international community is closely monitoring the situation and calling for a peaceful resolution to protect the lives of civilians caught in the conflict.