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Fear, confusion as Israel issues evacuation order for northern Gaza

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Israel’s order for 1.1 million civilians in the Gaza Strip to relocate from the north to the south within 24 hours has created an atmosphere of confusion and fear in the besieged enclave on the seventh day of Israel’s retaliatory bombardment. The directive came on Friday as Israel is expected to order a ground invasion of the densely populated territory following last week’s unprecedented attack carried out on southern Israel by Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza. In response, the Hamas Authority for Refugee Affairs told residents in the north to “remain steadfast in their homes and to stand firm in the face of this disgusting psychological war waged by the occupation.”

In northern Gaza, residents early in the morning of Friday said the streets were empty as people stayed inside their homes trying to decide what to do next following Israel’s evacuation orders. There were no cars on the road except for ambulances. Palestinians said information was scant and most still had not heard direct orders from the army to evacuate.

Inas Hamdan, an officer at the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza City, described the situation as “chaos” and said that there was no way that 1.1 million people could be safely evacuated. Nebal Farsakh, spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza City, said there were simply too many people to evacuate at such short notice.

Israel is under no illusions that 1 million people can simply move within 24 hours. In its statement to civilians in Gaza, the Israeli military said the evacuation was for their own safety as it planned to “operate significantly in Gaza City” in the coming days.