The UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Safety and Security in Gaza (OCHA oPt) was notified just before midnight local time that “the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours”, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated in a statement to multiple media outlets on Friday morning.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has confirmed the evacuation order, calling it a “humanitarian step”. It did not mention any specific deadline, with a spokesperson acknowledging it would take “some time.”
“The IDF calls on all residents of Gaza City to evacuate their homes, move south for their protection and settle in the area south of the Gaza River,” the military said in a post on X.
“This evacuation is for your personal safety. It will be possible to return to Gaza City only after a notification confirming this.”
The IDF vowed to “continue to operate significantly in Gaza City in the coming days” and has urged civilians to “distance yourself from the Hamas terrorists who use you as a human shield”.
The UN official emphasized that it is “impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences”.
“This amounts to approximately 1.1 million people. The same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities – including schools, health centers and clinics,” the spokesperson continued.
“The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation,” Dujarric added.
As of Thursday night, the number of people already forced to flee their homes amid the ongoing Israeli airstrikes has increased to 423,378, or roughly 21% of the entire population of Gaza, according to the latest flash update by the OCHA. About two-thirds of the internally displaced persons are taking shelter in facilities operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, has warned that Israel’s call for 1.1 million Palestinian to leave northern Gaza would constitute mass displacement not seen in decades.
“This would amount to displacing 1 million+ Palestinians – displacement on a scale we have not seen since the Nakba,” Shakir said in a social media post, referring to the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians around the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
“The international community must act to prevent a calamity. History will not be kind to those who remain silent,” Shakir added.
A Hamas official has stressed that the UN statement warning that Israel has told people in northern Gaza to leave to the south of the enclave is “fake propaganda”, and has urged Palestinians in Gaza not to fall for it.
The Hamas Authority for Refugee Affairs also told residents in the north to “remain steadfast in your homes and to stand firm in the face of this disgusting psychological war waged by the occupation”.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has also called on the world to help “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, stressing there are “no safe areas” to evacuate civilians after Israel told half the population to migrate south.
“PRCS calls on the world leaders and the international community to intervene immediately to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding right now,” it said in a Friday statement.
“We do not have the means to evacuate the sick and the wounded in our hospitals, or the elderly and the disabled. There are no safe areas in the whole of the Gaza Strip.”
The PRCS described the Israeli evacuation order as “shocking and beyond belief.”
“The whole people in Gaza feel that the world has turned their back on them,” the group continued.
The PCRS called on international aid organizations on the ground in Gaza including the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene with governments to “protect humanity and humanitarian space” and put pressure on “Israel to rescind this order.”
The latest escalation between Hamas and Israel began early on Saturday, when the Palestinian fighters launched a surprise attack on multiple locations along the Gaza border in response to Israel’s repeated aggression against Palestinians and desecration of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli officials estimate that more than 1,300 people have been killed in the Hamas assault and over 3,000 have been wounded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war on Sunday, as IDF troops were deployed to clear Israeli towns and villages of Hamas fighters. Israeli planes have conducted constant airstrikes on Gaza ever since. Israeli massive air strikes on the densely-populated Gaza Strip, has so far killed almost 1,500 people.