Israel has issued an evacuation order for more than one million residents in northern Gaza, warning of an imminent ground invasion of the besieged enclave. The order came on Friday, the seventh day of Israel’s retaliatory bombardment following last week’s unprecedented attack by Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza. Israel said it had targeted more than 1,500 Hamas sites, including rocket launchers, tunnels, command centers and weapons factories. Hamas has fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel, killing 12 people and injuring hundreds more.
The evacuation order gave residents 24 hours to flee towards the south, but many said they had nowhere to go and no means to get there. The only two possible exits from Gaza are the Erez crossing into Israel and the Rafah crossing into Egypt, both of which are closed due to Israeli air strikes. Some residents said they feared a repeat of the 2014 war, when Israel launched a ground offensive that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Fear and confusion in northern Gaza
Residents of northern Gaza said the streets were empty as people stayed inside their homes trying to decide what to do next. Many said they had not received any direct instructions from the Israeli army and relied on social media and word of mouth for information. Some said they did not believe the evacuation order was real and accused Israel of waging a psychological war to terrorize them. Others said they were ready to face death rather than leave their homes and belongings behind.
“I don’t know where to go. I have six children and no car. How can I move them in this situation?” said Umm Mohammed, a 40-year-old mother from Beit Hanoun. “I don’t trust the Israelis. They might bomb us on the way or shoot us at the checkpoints. They want us to leave our land so they can take it.”
“I’m not afraid of their threats. I will stay in my home until the last breath,” said Abu Ahmed, a 55-year-old farmer from Beit Lahiya. “This is my land and my ancestors’ land. I will not give it up to the occupiers. They can kill me, but they can’t kill my spirit.”
Hamas urges residents to stay put
The Hamas Authority for Refugee Affairs told residents in the north to “remain steadfast in your homes and to stand firm in the face of this disgusting psychological war waged by the occupation”. It said it was coordinating with international organizations and humanitarian agencies to provide assistance and protection to the civilians. It also urged the international community to intervene and stop Israel’s aggression.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the evacuation order was a sign of Israel’s failure and desperation. He said Hamas was prepared for any scenario and would continue to defend Gaza until Israel lifted its blockade and ended its occupation.
“We are not afraid of their ground invasion. We have prepared for this day for years. We have thousands of fighters ready to face them in every street and alley,” Barhoum said. “We will make them pay a heavy price for their crimes against our people.”
International efforts to end the violence
The United Nations, Egypt, Qatar and other countries have been trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but so far without success. The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation. The US, which has veto power at the council, has expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defense and has blocked previous attempts to issue a statement calling for an end to the hostilities.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and reiterated his support for Israel’s security. He also expressed concern about the civilian casualties on both sides and urged Netanyahu to pursue a de-escalation of the conflict.
Meanwhile, thousands of people around the world have taken to the streets to protest against Israel’s actions and show solidarity with the Palestinians. In some countries, such as France and Germany, the authorities have banned or restricted the demonstrations, citing security concerns or COVID-19 restrictions.