© Reuters. Israeli tanks and military vehicles take position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, October 13, 2023. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura
(Reuters) – Mosques and Hamas officials told Gaza Strip residents to stay in their homes on Friday, in defiance of an Israeli military call for more than a million civilians to move south within 24 hours in the build-up to its expected ground offensive.
Any incursion could be pivotal in fighting between the Israeli military and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which on Saturday launched the bloodiest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel has already launched the heaviest air strikes on Gaza ever, and has mobilised 300,000 reservists and amassed tanks near the border in response to the Hamas assault.
The threats of a ground invasion have conjured up images of the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe that refers to the 1948 war of Israel’s creation that led to their mass dispossession.
Gaza analyst Talal Okal described the Israeli relocation order as an “attempt to push the Palestinian people of Gaza into Nakba\”.
“Like they did in 1948 when they pushed people out of historical Palestine by dropping barrels of explosives on their heads, today Israel is repeating this before the eyes of the world and live cameras,” Okal told Reuters.
In Gaza, mosques broadcast the message: “Hold on to your homes. Hold on to your land.”
Hamas militants killed more than 1,300 Israelis in their attack on Saturday. Israeli air strikes in response have killed more than 1,400 people in Gaza so far, authorities there said.
The Israeli military told the civilians of Gaza City to “evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields.”
“Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City inside tunnels underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians,” it added.
Hamas urges Palestinians to ignore the call, describing it as disinformation designed to sow panic and facilitate Israel’s plan to invade and destroy the militant group.
‘WE WILL NOT LEAVE’
The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency on Friday described the military call as “horrendous” and said the enclave was rapidly becoming a “hell hole”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Amman that he “rejects the forced displacement” of Palestinians in Gaza, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.
He said such an event would constitute a “second Nakba” adding that humanitarian corridors must be allowed in the blockaded coastal enclave immediately to prevent a humanitarian disaster, the report said.
Well-Known Gaza Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zard was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, Hamas said. His son was killed a few weeks ago during border protests along the fence.
“Ordering a million people in Gaza to evacuate, when there’s no safe place to go, is not an effective warning. The roads are rubble, fuel is scarce, and the main hospital is in the evacuation zone,” Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, said.
Inside Shifa hospital, the largest of Gaza’s 13 public hospitals, a man arrived to check on dozens of relatives and friends who have been brought from the site of a residential building Israel bombed in Beach refugee camp.
“I survived, I don’t know why I survived. It is so that I tell the enemy, America, Europe and the world that this Palestinian people will not be defeated,” the man cried toward reporters.
“They think there will be another displacement, or that we may go Egypt. Nonsense,” he said before going into the morgue to try and identify dead relatives.
Eyad Al-Bozom, spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, urged Arabs everywhere and especially in countries that have borders with Israel to support the people of Gaza.
“We tell the people of northern Gaza and from Gaza City, stay put in your homes, and your places. By carrying out massacres against the civilians, the occupation wants to displace us once again from our land,” he said.
“The 1948 displacement will not happen. We will die and we will not leave,” Bozom said at a news conference held in Shifa hospital in Gaza City.