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Gaza’s distressed civilian population seeks refuge and safety, amidst mounting alerts of an impending Israeli military operation.

Gaza’s distressed civilian population is either fleeing the area in search of safety or gathering in large numbers near a hospital in hopes of avoiding harm, as Israel issues increasingly dire warnings of an impending military offensive via air, land, and sea. This comes in response to a previous attack by Hamas militants in Israel a week ago.

As Israeli military personnel at a base work tirelessly even during the Jewish Sabbath to identify the over 1,300 individuals who lost their lives in the October 7th assault, Israel is distributing leaflets from the air and intensifying its messages on social media, urging over 1 million Gaza residents to move to the south. The military’s stated goal is to clear civilians from the area before launching a concentrated campaign against Hamas militants in the northern regions, including their underground hideouts in Gaza City. In contrast, Hamas is encouraging people to stay in their homes.

International organizations and aid groups, including the U.N., express deep concern that this rapid exodus, coupled with Israel’s blockade of the territory, will result in immense human suffering. The World Health Organization warns that the evacuation could be life-threatening for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals, including newborns in incubators and individuals in intensive care.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening as water and medical supplies become increasingly scarce due to a week-old Israeli blockade, which has also led to the shutdown of electrical plants due to a lack of fuel.

In Gaza City, Haifa Khamis al-Shurafa and her family are among those fleeing to the south in desperation. She expresses her distress, stating, “We don’t deserve this. We didn’t kill anyone.”

The evacuation directive encompasses an area with 1.1 million residents, which is approximately half of the territory’s population. The Israeli military reports that “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians have heeded the warning and are moving south. The military granted Palestinians a six-hour window, ending Saturday afternoon, to travel safely along two main routes within Gaza.

In Israel, despite the Sabbath, workers at a military base have received special rabbinical approval to continue the grim task of identifying the bodies of over 1,300 people, most of whom were civilians, killed by Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited border communities in southern Israel that were the site of deadly attacks by Hamas militants, expressing solidarity with soldiers and surveying the damaged homes. He has faced criticism for not doing enough to meet with the victims’ families.

Outside the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, hundreds of relatives of Israelis and foreigners captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza are demanding their release. They express their frustration with the government’s lack of information about their loved ones.

In a nationally broadcast address on Saturday night, Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and urged Gaza residents to move south, revealing that a broad attack on Gaza City is imminent. However, no specific timeline is provided.

Israeli military spokesman John Conricus emphasizes that Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not considered enemies and are not targeted as such. The goal is to do what is right. Israel has mobilized around 360,000 military reserves and deployed troops and tanks along the Gaza border. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the U.S. was sending a second carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a deterrent to any regional actors seeking to escalate the conflict.

Palestinian militants continue to launch rockets into Israel, with over 5,500 rockets fired since the fighting began, according to the Israeli military. Despite the mounting pressure, Hamas remains defiant, with a top official, Ismail Haniyeh, declaring that “all the massacres” will not break the Palestinian people.

Fighting persists as both sides prepare for the anticipated offensive, with Hamas launching rockets into Israel and Israel conducting airstrikes in Gaza. A recent Israeli airstrike near the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza resulted in the deaths of at least 27 people and injuries to another 80, primarily women and children, according to Gaza health authorities.

As the situation in Gaza worsens, the number of remaining residents in the northern area remains uncertain, with an estimated 1 million people displaced in Gaza in just one week. At Gaza City’s primary hospital, al-Shifa, a large crowd seeks refuge in hallways, on hospital grounds, and within the building, desperate for safety after their homes were destroyed and they were forced to flee. Basic necessities such as food, fuel, and drinking water are running out due to the complete Israeli siege.

At the main hospital in Gaza City, Al-Shifa, a throng of men, women, and children – approximately 35,000 by medical estimates – huddled together in bloodied hallways and on the hospital grounds. Some sought shelter under trees, while others crowded inside the lobby, hoping to find refuge from the ongoing conflict.

Dr. Medhat Abbas, an official from the Health Ministry, remarked, “People see this as their only safe haven after their homes were razed, and they were forced to flee.”

The dire situation had left basic necessities like food, fuel, and clean drinking water in short supply, primarily due to the complete Israeli siege. Water had ceased flowing from the taps throughout the region. In the Jabaliya refugee camp, 25-year-old Amal Abu Yahia, who was pregnant, anxiously awaited the rare moments when contaminated water trickled from the pipes in her basement. She rationed it, prioritizing her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She herself consumed very little, to the point that she only urinated every other day.

Closer to the coast, the only available tap water was tainted with seawater from the Mediterranean, given the lack of proper sanitation facilities. In Gaza City, Mohammed Ibrahim, 28, and his neighbors had resorted to drinking this saline water.

As the Israeli military issued evacuation orders, requiring the entire population to congregate in the southern half of Gaza, strikes from Israel persisted, including in the south.

Rami Swailem and at least five families in his building opted to stay in their apartments near Gaza City. “We are deeply connected to our homeland,” he stated. “We would rather face our destiny with dignity than abandon it.”

Others frantically sought ways to evacuate. A plea on social media read, “We need a contact for drivers from Gaza heading south. Urgent help required.”

The U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians expressed concerns for those unable to leave, especially pregnant women, children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. The agency emphasized the need to protect these vulnerable groups and called upon Israel to avoid targeting civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics, and U.N. facilities.

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