Israel’s military has warned Gaza residents that they risk being identified as accomplices “in a terrorist organisation” if they do not move south, Palestinians there said, amid growing humanitarian fears with little aid being allowed in.
More than a million people lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, and hundreds of thousands have gone southwards to cram into temporary refuges despite unremitting air and artillery strikes also hitting the southern areas they have fled to.
The first limited supplies of aid arrived on Saturday after two weeks of a total Israeli siege, but relief agencies still warn of a humanitarian catastrophe, with hospitals nearly out of fuel to power incubators and other critical equipment.
Israeli forces readying a ground assault have pummelled the 45-km (28-mile) strip since Hamas militants rampaged through Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people and seizing more than 200 hostages.
The Palestinian Red Crescent logistics head in Gaza, Mahmoud Abu al-Atta, said truckloads of aid had been handed to specific agencies including UNICEF and the Qatari Red Crescent.
Some aid had been earmarked for hospitals and some for UN-run shelters, he said.
Mohammad Maher, 40, who has fled to the south from Gaza City in the north, said: “We don’t want food or money. We want this war to end. We want death to stop and we want this blind bombing of civilians to stop.”
He described the amount of food aid that had arrived as “pathetic” and accused Israel and the United States of seeking the starvation of Palestinians. “Shame on the world,” he said.
The message to Gaza residents was delivered from Saturday in leaflets dropped by air and marked with the Israeli military logo, and in automated phone messages sent to people across the enclave.
The message was delivered in leaflets marked with the Israel Defense Forces name and logo from Saturday and sent to people via mobile phone audio messages across the Gaza Strip, a narrow territory that is just 45 km (28 miles) long.
“Urgent warning, to residents of Gaza. Your presence north of Wadi Gaza puts your life in danger. Whoever chooses not to leave north Gaza to the south of Wadi Gaza might be identified as an accomplice in a terrorist organisation,” the leaflet said.
Israeli airstrikes continued through the night, killing at least 55 Palestinians in Gaza, raising the total number of casualties since October 7 past 4,300.
Israel has massed troops and armour on the border with Gaza ahead of an expected land incursion, aiming to annihilate Hamas, after several inconclusive wars dating to its seizure of power there in 2007.
“We are going to go into the Gaza Strip… to destroy Hamas operatives and Hamas infrastructure,” Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi told troops in a video distributed by the Israeli military on Saturday. “We will have in our mind the memories of the images and those who fell on Saturday two weeks ago.”
Although Israel has previously warned Palestinians to move south, it had not previously told them they could be identified as “terrorist” sympathisers if they did not.
In Jabalia refugee camp, in the north of the enclave, Israeli air strikes destroyed two mosques – among 30 that local authorities say the bombardment has smashed in two weeks.
“They have destroyed it and they destroyed the district around it,” said a man standing by the rubble.
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However, the risks were intense in the southern areas that people have fled to as well.
In Khan Younis, in the south, people held a funeral for seven members of one family killed in strikes overnight. Women embraced each other, sobbing, as the bodies were pushed by cart to a grave site and lowered into the ground, shrouded in white.
Any supplies coming on Sunday will not include fuel, which Israel’s military has said could be used by Hamas, meaning the dwindling power supply in Gaza may give out.
Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said there were 130 newborn babies in electrically powered incubators. At al-Shifa Hospital, one of Gaza’s biggest, they were almost at the bottom of the fuel tanks, he said.
“We have switched the fuel to the most essential life-saving services including the incubators but we don’t know how long it can last,” he added.
The United Nations agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said it would run out of fuel in three days. “Without fuel there will be no water, no functioning hospitals and bakeries,” it said.
Conditions were increasingly difficult for Gaza residents in other ways. At a Khan Younis bakery, long queues had grown from dawn with little bread available.
“If this continues, the whole population will be without food and drink. We won’t find bread or flour or anything at all,” said Shady al-Aqqad, one of several hundred people waiting.
US sends military assets
Meanwhile, fears that the Israel-Palestinian conflict might spread through the Middle East ratcheted higher on Sunday, with the US sending more military assets to the region as Israel pummelled targets in Gaza and elsewhere.
An Israeli missile attack targeted Damascus and Aleppo international airports in neighbouring Syria early on Sunday, killing a civilian worker and putting the airports out of service, Syrian state media reported.
Israel said its aircraft struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon on Saturday and that one of its soldiers was hit by an anti-tank missile in cross-border fighting that the Iran-backed group said killed six of its fighters.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday that the Lebanese people would be affected if his country were drawn in, the State Department said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington would send more military assets to the Middle East to support Israel and strengthen the US defence posture in the region following “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces”.
Read: US sends second aircraft carrier ‘to deter hostile actions against Israel’
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defence missile system battalions will be sent to the region, and more troops will be put on standby, Austin said.
Washington has already sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.
Drones and rockets targeted two military bases housing US forces in Iraq last week, the latest in a series of attacks after Iraqi militants warned Washington against intervening to support Israel against Iran-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A deadly blast at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday was likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza, not an Israeli strike, Canada’s National Department of Defence said, reaching similar conclusions to the US and France.
Israeli aircraft struck a compound beneath a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank early on Sunday that the military said was being used by militants to organise attacks.
Israeli forces killed a fifth Palestinian in the West Bank overnight, bringing the number of deaths there to 90 since the war began, the Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday.
Palestinian media reported at least 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, and that Israel was striking the southern city of Rafah.
The strikes came hours after Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari called on Gazans to move south out of harm’s way.
“For your own safety move southward. We will continue to attack in the area of Gaza City and increase attacks,” Hagari told Israeli reporters on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in southern Lebanon, at least 27 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally. Most have been combatants but at least four civilians, including a Reuters journalist, have also been killed.
Israel has ordered dozens of northern communities to evacuate, and several thousand Lebanese have also fled border regions for the southern city of Tyre.
On Sunday, the Israeli defence ministry said they were evacuating 14 additional communities from the area.
Israel has levelled blame at Lebanese group Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into the conflict.