Israel sent a 24-hour evacuation order for more than 1 million Palestinians at midnight.
The United Nations has urged Israel to call off an “impossible” demand for more than 1 million Palestinians to evacuate Gaza City within 24 hours amid a feared ground offensive.
In a statement, the UN said “Today just before midnight local time, team leaders of the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Safety and Security in Gaza were informed by their liaison officers in the Israeli military that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to
southern Gaza within the next 24 hours.
Such a move would amount to approximately 1.1 million people being forced to travel across the besieged city, which has already been heavily bombarded by Israel since it declared war on Saturday.
The statement said the order also applies to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities – including schools, health centres and clinics.
“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take
place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” the global agency warned.
The UN strongly appealed for any such order “to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
The statement was issued after the Israeli military released a statement threatening Palestinian civilians to leave their homes in Gaza City and move southwards “for their own safety”.
Israel warned it would continue “to operate significantly” in Gaza City “in the following days”.
“You will be able to return to Gaza City only when another announcement permitting it is made,” the warning added.
Israel launched its largest ever bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip on Saturday and has since levelled entire neighbourhoods in the besieged enclave, where more than 2 million Palestinians live in one of the world’s most densely populated areas.
On Monday, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a complete siege on Gaza while describing Palestinians in the Strip as “human animals”.
“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” Gallant said during the announcement.
Israeli says it has dropped some 6,000 bombs on Gaza since the start of the bombardment. So far, at least 1,537 Palestinians – including 500 children and 276 women – have been killed.
The latest developments come after days of speculation on a potential Israeli ground offensive in Gaza. On Thursday the Israeli military said it was mobilising hundreds of thousands of troops but a decision has not yet been made.
The Israeli evacuation order was made just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a press conference in Tel Aviv, in which he affirmed Washington’s unwavering support for Israel. However, Blinken is expected to arrive in Doha on Friday for de-escalation talks.
Global de-escalation efforts
Regional leaders have scrambled since Saturday to deescalate the flare-up in violence.
Qatar, which hosts a Hamas political office, has been at the forefront of de-escalation efforts in Gaza since the onset of the latest events.
Earlier this week, the Gulf state confirmed communications “with the relevant parties, as part of regional and international efforts to de-escalate the situation”.
On Sunday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed the importance of “safeguarding the lives of civilians” in a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The Amir stressed, during the call, that safeguarding the lives of civilians, sparing them the consequences of conflict, and reducing escalation are top priorities for the State of Qatar, which is making all its diplomatic efforts with various concerned parties to achieve this goal,” an Amiri Diwan statement said.
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has also been in contact with officials from the United States and the Arab region—namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
Meanwhile on Saturday, President of the United States Joe Biden said he directed his administration to remain in contact with regional leaders.
“I’ve also directed my team to remain in constant contact with leaders throughout the region, including Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, the UAE, as well as with our European partners and the Palestinian Authority,” Biden said at the time.
However, in a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Majed bin Mohammed Al-Ansari, the Qatari foreign ministry spokesman, appeared to adopt a cautious approach to reports on progress being made in mediation efforts, saying the current crisis in Gaza is not “mere escalation”.
“It is a bit early to comment on any mediation efforts by Qatar or other players of the region. Qatar has had many successes in de-escalating between two parties in the past … at this moment (it is) very difficult to say that any party can start mediation.” Al-Ansari told reporters during a weekly media briefing.
He said the government’s core objective remains to harmonise international and regional responses to the aggression and consider potential peace-building interventions.
The immediate cessation of hostilities, ending the bloodshed, ensuring the safe release of detainees, and preventing this conflict from spiralling into a broader regional crisis are all central to Qatar’s peace negotiations.