Mohammed Dawoud had already been sheltering in a UN-run school in Gaza City for days when news began to spread through the crowded classrooms that Israel had called for a broader evacuation to the south of the besieged enclave. The 31-year-old father of two adult brothers with cerebral palsy struggled to separate rumor from reality. He was concerned for his family’s safety, but he also knew that moving south would mean leaving behind the only home he had ever known.
The announcement that a million people in northern Gaza should be forced to move within 24 hours sparked widespread panic among civilians already living with the constant threat of air strikes, a territory-wide power blackout, and an impoverished economy whose only natural source of income is the money earned from exporting raw materials such as plastic and cement. Many in Gaza fear that the evacuation order could be the precursor to a full-scale ground invasion that will lead to unprecedented destruction and push the already fragile Strip further into a bottomless abyss.
More than a week after the start of this conflict, nearly 240 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more are now displaced, with over a third taking shelter in schools run by the UN Palestine refugee agency, UNRWA. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has warned that the world is “on the brink of a catastrophe in Gaza.”
He said the conflict has “turned into a humanitarian nightmare” and said Israel must meet its own standards for civilian casualties. He urged Hamas to release hostages immediately and without conditions and to allow free and unimpeded access for relief workers.
He urged the governments of Germany and the Netherlands to work with the Israeli authorities to secure safe passage for people leaving Gaza and to abide by international law in evacuating those sick or injured. He also said that UN disaster supplies are ready to be delivered “within hours” if the Israeli government grants such access.
But Haaretz quoted a doctor at Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, as saying it was impossible to evacuate the wounded, adding that “moving them from north to south will be their death sentence.”
A former US ambassador to Turkey named David Satterfield has been appointed to begin coordinating aid efforts for those in need, and he said every nation he had spoken to shared the administration’s goal of preventing an escalation and helping those trapped by this conflict. The State Department has asked the Pentagon to deploy an additional carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Sunday with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, discussing the need for both sides to respect international law. Sign up for CNN’s three-times-a-week newsletter on Middle East developments. This newsletter explores the region’s most significant stories in-depth, providing background on the complex issues and putting them in perspective.