GAZA: Israel’s military on Friday called for all civilians of Gaza City, more than 1 million people, to relocate south within 24 hours, as it amassed tanks near the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected ground invasion.
The Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people, is under siege by Israel, which has pounded ‘Hamas targets’ in the enclave and killed more than 1,500 Palestinians in brutal reprisal attacks since the weekend incursions.
“Now is a time for war,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday as Israeli warplanes continued pounding Gaza in retaliation for the weekend attack by Hamas.
The Israeli military said it would operate “significantly” in Gaza City in the coming days and civilians would only be able to return when another announcement was made.
“Civilians of Gaza City, evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields,” the military said in a statement.
“Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City inside tunnels underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians.”
A Hamas official said the Gaza relocation warning was “fake propaganda” and urged citizens not to fall for it.
The United Nations said it considered it impossible for such a movement of people to take place “without devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan described the UN’s response to Israel’s early warning to the residents of Gaza as “shameful”. Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas.
The Israeli military said in a statement on Friday that it struck 750 military targets in northern Gaza overnight, including what it claimed were Hamas tunnels, military compounds, residences of senior operatives and weapons storage warehouses.
However, a ground invasion of Gaza poses a serious risk with Hamas holding scores of hostages kidnapped in the assault.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said fuel powering emergency generators at hospitals in Gaza could run out within hours and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned food and fresh water were running dangerously low.
“The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent, and I implore the sides to reduce the suffering of civilians,” ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni said.
The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said it had relocated its central operations centre and international staff to Gaza’s south.
Safety concerns prompt security measures
The US State Department will begin offering charter flights to Europe to help Americans leave Israel if they want starting Friday, the White House said.
Japan has arranged for a charter flight to depart Tel Aviv on Saturday for its citizens wishing to leave Israel, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Friday.
The conflict spurred some civil unrest in Europe, with police in Paris using tear gas and water cannon to break up a banned rally in support of the Palestinian people. Some Jewish schools in Amsterdam and London were set to close temporarily due to safety concerns.
US law enforcement officials in New York and Los Angeles said they had a stepped-up police presence for Friday, especially around synagogues and Jewish community centers, but some officials sought to play down the threat.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, an Arab advocacy group, said on Thursday that FBI agents had visited mosques in different states and individual US residents with Palestinian roots, calling it a “troubling trend.” In Jerusalem, scores of Israelis gathered at the Mount Herzl military cemetery on Thursday to bury their dead.
In Gaza’s main southern city Khan Younis, where cemeteries were already full, dead were being buried in empty lots, like the Samour family, killed on Wednesday night in a strike that hit their house.
Palestinian rescue worker Ibrahim Hamdan drove from one bomb site to another as his team tried to pull survivors from houses destroyed by the Israeli air strikes.
“This war is harsh beyond imagining,” said Hamdan, who has worked through repeated wars since becoming a rescuer in 2007. “They knock down high-rise buildings on top of their residents.”
Gazans, mainly descendants of refugees who fled or were expelled from homes in Israel at its founding in 1948, have suffered economic collapse and repeated Israeli bombardment under a blockade.
Palestinian anger has mounted in recent months, with Israel carrying out the deadliest crackdown for years in the West Bank and its right-wing government talking of seizing more land. A peace process meant to create a Palestinian state collapsed a decade ago, which Palestinian leaders say left the population with no hope, strengthening extremists.