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Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled northern Gaza for a second day ahead of an evacuation deadline as Israel extended aerial bombardment and conducted limited raids into the border to search for hostages taken by Hamas militants a week ago.
Israel has ordered 1.1 million Palestinian citizens to leave the northern 40km Gaza Strip ahead of a full-scale ground offensive against militant group Hamas, which carried out a cross-border attack last Saturday.
Israeli officials said the Hamas attack killed at least 1,300 Israelis, mostly civilians. Local health officials say at least 1,900 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its bombardment.
The UN condemned the expulsion order, which Israel said was aimed at Hamas and aimed at protecting civilians, while the EU’s top diplomat said on Saturday that Israel must respect international law in its war with Hamas.
Joseph Borrell said the evacuation order was impractical and would create an even worse humanitarian crisis in the territory.
“It is absolutely impossible to implement,” Borrell told reporters on a visit to Beijing.
“You can’t move such a large number of people in such a short period of time, especially [when there are] No accommodations, no transportation. . . They should give more time to make it possible without creating a dire humanitarian situation.
Israel said on Saturday it was restricting shooting on certain designated streets to allow movement.
The border with Egypt has been largely closed since Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 in response to a violent takeover by Hamas.
Israel has cut off food, fresh water and electricity to Gaza after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared a “total blockade” this week. The UN says water supplies are severely limited, forcing people to drink brackish water and raising disease fears.
IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said early Saturday that Israel intends to “enhance our military operations” in Gaza City, the largest city in the densely populated area and the center of Hamas’ political and military apparatus.
The IDF said on Friday that Israeli special forces entered Gaza in the first known incursion to hunt hostages since the 2014 war. They collected the bodies of captives near the border fence, found “evidence to assist in the search for the hostages,” and fired at Hamas anti-tank missile crews attacking Israel.
Hamas has indicated it wants to trade hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel has identified 120 hostages, the IDF said.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said on Friday that hundreds of thousands of Gazans were fleeing south in cars, trucks and wagons, as fuel shortages and dilapidated roads hampered their escape. Others chose to stay or were unable to leave.
Displacement is a second “Nakba“Or apocalypse – the term used to describe the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that the war with Hamas “will take time.”
“We are striking our enemies with unprecedented force,” Netanyahu said in a rare Shabbat speech. “This is just the beginning. Our enemies are starting to pay the price.
On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli soldiers, sent two drones into Israel and fired air missiles at Israeli planes, Conricus said Saturday.
“The situation on the northern border is very tense,” he said.
Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr