Hundreds of thousands of Gazans attempted to comply with Israeli orders to evacuate roughly the northern half of the Gaza Strip.
Israel on Sunday rushed to prepare for a ground offensive in Gaza after giving Palestinians a little time to evacuate from the northern areas it has vowed to target in response to the deadliest attack in its history.
Last week, Hamas fighters shot, stabbed and burned more than 1,300 people in an attack that Israel likened to the United States’ 9/11, triggering a massive retaliatory bombing campaign that killed more than 2,200 people in Gaza.
Israel has warned about 1.1 million people living in the northern part of the Palestinian enclave to evacuate to the south ahead of a ground invasion that the military has signaled would focus on Gaza City, a stronghold of the militant Hamas leadership.
The military said Gaza City residents should not delay their departure, but a spokesman said late Saturday that residents still had time to leave and that a ground offensive would not begin on Sunday.
Thousands of Gazans, unable to leave the enclave under blockade by both Israel and Egypt since Friday, have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases and trudged through rubble-strewn streets. .
A stream of cars, trucks, tricycles, and donkey-drawn carts loaded families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding, and bags strapped to the roofs of crowded vehicles, joining the frenzied mass movement south.
“More will come.”
The Israeli military announced Saturday night that it had found the “dead body” of a hostage abducted by Hamas in a raid on Israel last week, without providing further details.
The possibility of an Israeli ground invasion has also raised concerns about the safety of the 150 hostages, including foreigners, captured by Israel during a deadly Hamas uprising.
Hamas has threatened to kill one hostage after each unannounced Israeli airstrike.
The militant group said a total of 22 people had already been killed in the shelling, without giving details.
On the Israel-Gaza border, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a bulletproof vest and looking grim, visited troops, raising hopes of an imminent invasion.
“Are you ready for what’s coming? More is coming,” he can be heard telling soldiers in a video released by his office. He then held security talks with emergency government ministers.
“The situation is catastrophic.”
Alarm has been raised over the fate of blockaded and besieged Palestinian civilians if the Gaza Strip, home to 2.4 million people and one of the world’s most densely populated areas, becomes the scene of intense urban and house-to-house fighting. There is.
Aid agencies say forced displacement of Gazans is not possible while the war rages on.
But Israel’s blockade has led to shortages of food, water, fuel and medical supplies, with aid agencies warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Jumaa Nasser, who traveled from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza with his wife, mother and seven children.
“I’m not eating or sleeping. I don’t know what to do. I’ve left my fate in God’s hands,” he said.
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that forcing the evacuation of thousands of hospitalized patients to already overflowing hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip could be “akin to a death sentence”.
Exiled Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday accused Israel of committing “war crimes” in Gaza, but denied “forced displacement” of Gazans, including from Egypt.
Hamas is regularly accused by Israel of using civilians as human shields.
On the diplomatic front, Chinese special envoy Zai Jun will visit the Middle East next week to urge a ceasefire and facilitate peace talks, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia has also called for an “immediate ceasefire.” Russia said it had asked the United Nations Security Council to vote on a cease-fire resolution on Monday.