Palestinians flee northern Gaza as Israel masses troops for assault

Palestinians flee their houses amid Israeli strikes after Israel's call for more than 1 million civilians in northern Gaza to move south, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 14, 2023.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thousands of Palestinians fled the north of the Gaza Strip on Saturday from the path of an expected Israeli ground assault, while Israel pounded the area with more air strikes and said it would keep two roads open to let people escape.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza in retaliation for a rampage by fighters, who stormed through Israeli towns a week ago, gunning down civilians and making off with scores of hostages. Some 1,300 were killed in the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history.

Israeli forces have since put the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, under a total siege and bombarded it with unprecedented air strikes. Gaza authorities say more than 2,200 people have been killed, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded.

Israel had given the entire population of the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which includes the enclave’s biggest settlement Gaza City, until Saturday morning to move south. It announced overnight that it would guarantee the safety of Palestinians fleeing the area on two main roads until 4:00 pm.

“Around the Gaza Strip, Israeli reserve soldiers in formation (are) getting ready for the next stage of operations,” Israeli military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told a video briefing early on Saturday.

“They are all around the Gaza Strip, in the south, in the centre and in the north, and they are preparing themselves for whatever target they get, whatever task.”

Hamas has told people not to leave and says the two roads Israel has declared open are unsafe. It says dozens of people have been killed on them in strikes on cars and trucks carrying refugees Friday, which Reuters could not independently verify. Israel says Hamas is preventing people from leaving to use them as human shields, which Hamas denies.

In Gaza City’s Tel Al-Hawa neighbourhood, part of the area Israel has ordered evacuated, warplanes bombed a residential area during the night, hitting several houses, according to residents who posted appeals on social media platforms.

Hundreds of residents of the area took refuge at the nearby Quds hospital and planned to join those fleeing to the south in the morning.

“We lived a night of horror. Israel punished us for not wanting to leave our home. Is there brutality worse than this?”, a father of three told Reuters by telephone from the hospital, declining to give his name for fear of reprisals.

“I was never going to leave, I prefer to die and not leave, but I can’t see my wife children die before my eyes. We are helpless.”

In Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Israeli planes struck a four-storey building, killing and wounding several people. Neighbours rushed to rescue people trapped in rubble.

“This is a genocide, not a war, it’s genocide. And it’s an attempt to displace the people of the Gaza Strip, but this will not happen,” said neighbour Mohammad Sadeq. “Martyrs are stuck under the rubble and until now neither us nor the medics nor civil defence were able to take them out.”

Ronnie Kasrils addresses the III International Dilemmas of Humanity Conference: