Israel has told all civilians in northern Gaza to relocate south for their safety. The military says it is pursuing Hamas terrorists who have been using residents of the coastal enclave as human shields. But critics say it is a desperate move that will push more people into a deepening humanitarian crisis.
The warning was delivered to residents of Gaza City on Friday, a day after Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets urging them to go south. Israeli officials say it is a last-ditch effort to protect people from the threat of a ground invasion that risks high casualties.
Amid a torrent of airstrikes that have pounded Gaza in retaliation for a recent barrage of rocket attacks, Palestinians are living in fear and uncertainty. The United Nations says the number of displaced people in Gaza has climbed to 338,000. They are crammed into the world’s most densely populated place, an isolated 139-square-mile strip home to more than two million people.
Earlier this week, Palestinians were stunned by a series of photos showing the bodies of young children killed in the strikes. The photos and testimonies of multiple survivors and eyewitnesses have prompted a wave of outrage. Hamas denied involvement in the killings but said it was taking steps to investigate allegations of abuse.
But critics of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza have dismissed the claims as “false propaganda.” They argue that Israel’s disproportionate response has caused the worst humanitarian disaster the area has experienced since its creation in 1948. They accuse the military of a pattern of mass displacement in Gaza, which is being forced to move on short notice and to flee in droves.
The call for civilians in northern Gaza to leave their homes is the latest in a series of escalating moves by Israel in its fight against Hamas. The military says it will pursue the militant group’s leaders, spotted in a tunnel under Gaza City, to strike at their roots.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the airstrikes, arguing that they have been targeted at terrorist infrastructure and are necessary to counter a growing Hamas threat. But critics have accused him of trying to justify a full-scale invasion, which will likely lead to high civilian casualties.
The White House has called on Israel to provide adequate warning for any ground operation and to take all necessary precautions to avoid the unnecessary loss of life. Officials have also urged it to protect hospitals, U.N. shelters, and civilian locations. But Israeli officials say they are not under any illusions that one million people can be moved at the drop of a hat.