Palestinians scrambled to flee northern Gaza on Saturday after the Israeli military ordered nearly half the population to evacuate south and carried out limited ground forays ahead of an expected land offensive a week after Hamas’, wide-ranging defend against Israel.
Israel renewed calls on social media and in leaflets dropped from the air for some 1 million Gaza residents to move south, while Hamas urged people to stay in their homes. The UN and aid groups have said such a rapid exodus would cause untold human suffering, with hospital patients and others unable to relocate.
Families in cars, trucks and donkey carts packed with possessions crowded a main road heading away from Gaza City as Israeli airstrikes continued to hammer the 40-kilometer (25-mile) long territory, where supplies of food, fuel and drinking water were running low because of a complete Israeli siege.
Egyptian officials said the southern Rafah crossing would open later Saturday for the first time in days to allow foreigners out. Israel said Palestinians could travel within Gaza without being harmed along two main routes from 10 a.m. to 4 pm local time.
The Israeli military said “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians had already heeded the warning and headed south. But some live up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, and roads demolished by airstrikes and fuel shortage hindered their journeys.
Thousands of people crammed into a UN-run school-turned-shelter in Deir al-Balah, a farming town south of the evacuation zone. Many slept outside on the ground without mattresses, or in chairs pulled from classrooms.
“I came here with my children. We slept on the ground. We don’t have a mattress, or clothes,” Howeida al-Zaaneen, 63, who is from the northern town of Beit Hanoun, said. “I want to go back to my home, even if it is destroyed.”