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Israel said on Friday that civilians are heeding its warning to leave northern areas of the Gaza Strip as the country ramps up bombardment of the Palestinian enclave ahead of an expected ground invasion.
The Israeli military said it had issued the warning for the “safety” of residents, calling on them to “distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields”.
“The population of Gaza city has started moving south significantly in order to protect itself,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters.
The news came as the military built up significant forces around Gaza in preparation for what is likely to be one of the most complex and bloody military operations in Israel's history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to destroy Hamas, which he said was “in many ways worse than ISIS”, after the operatives made unprecedented incursions into Israeli territory close to the Gaza border on Saturday morning, killing more than 1,300 people – mainly civilians – and taking at least 120 hostage.
The military said on Thursday that it had conducted a series of “localised raids” in Gaza to find information that “may help in the effort to locate the missing”.
UN humanitarian relief chief Martin Griffiths questioned the practicality of Israel's orders to Gazan civilians.
“How are 1.1 million people supposed to move across a densely populated war zone in less than 24 hours?” he wrote on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Friday.
“The noose around the civilian population in Gaza is tightening.”
The National's contributor Nagham Mohanna, who herself had been forced to leave her home in Al Rimal neighbourhood in Gaza's north, said many people have taken little with them when they fled.
“Not everybody has relatives in other areas who they can stay with. UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] schools are filled to the brim with people,” she said.
“Some people simply have nowhere to go. Some are just staying in their cars. Others are sat out on the streets.”
Mohanna's sister had also learnt that the building she was staying in had been completely destroyed.
“It's devastating,” she said.
Having fled to the southern part of the Strip, Mohanna said what she has been through is “indescribable”.
“This is a brutal enemy and what they want is to scare people into displacement,” Gaza resident Abu Azzam told AFP. “But, God willing, we will remain steadfast in the face of any displacement.”
Another resident, Mohamed Khaled, 43, also said he would stay.
“What does the world want from us? I am a refugee in Gaza and they want to displace me yet again? What will we do in Rafah?” he asked, referring to the city at the far south of the enclave, 40 kilometres from Gaza city.
“Sleep on the streets with our children? We won't do it. I don't want this humiliating life.”
In the northern refugee camp of Al Shati, people refused to flee their homes and instead opted to take to the streets in protest against the Israeli strikes on Gaza.
“Today, we don't know, where do we go?” 24-year-old Mohamed Abu Ali from Al Shati camp said, standing in front of an UNRWA office.
“There is nowhere safe. We went to the United Nations for refuge. Israel is committing massacres today against civilians and our children are under the rubble.
“We don't know what to do. We have no food and no water. I ask the UN in front of its headquarters: where do we go?”