In the last hour we’ve heard from the Israeli military, which has directly told civilians of Gaza City to evacuate to the south.
“You will be able to return to Gaza City only when another announcement permitting it is made,” officials said in the statement addressed to the city, which is the main urban area of the Gaza Strip.
The IDF said Hamas militants are hiding inside tunnels underneath the ciy and inside buildings populated with civilians. It urged civilians to evacuate the city “for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields”.
“In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City and make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians,” it added.
As we’ve reported, the order comes as Israel is expected to launch a ground offensive into Gaza with thousands of troops amassing at the border.
The UN has strongly appealed for the order to be rescinded, saying an evacuation could lead to a “calamitous situation” and would have “devastating humanitarian consequences”.
A Hamas official has described Israel’s order for people in the north of Gaza to relocate to the south as “fake propaganda”, and has urged citizens there to ignore it.
The militant group has long been criticized by the international community for using civilians as human shields – putting innocent people in danger to protect their fighters.
Hamas took power of the Gaza strip after it won the legislative elections in 2006, before reinforcing its power in Gaza the following year by ousting the rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.