On Thursday, crowds of Palestinian families stretching as far as the eye could see were walking south to escape Israeli airstrikes and the ground battle raging between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters.
The accelerating exodus to the south came as Israel agreed to start implementing a four-hour humanitarian pause each day and to open a second route for people to flee the north, the White House said.
Those fleeing to the south face the prospect of ongoing airstrikes there, and dire humanitarian conditions.
On Friday, UN expert for the Palestinian territories Francesca Albanese called the four-hour pauses “cynical and cruel,” saying it was just enough “to let people breathe and remember what is the sound of life without bombing, before starting bombing them again”.
Asked about the agreement in a Fox News interview that aired Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied that “the fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period, a few hours here, a few hours there, we want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting. And we’re doing that”.
While Netanyahu suggested earlier in the week that Israel would be responsible for security in Gaza for an indefinite period, he told Fox that Israel is not looking to occupy nor govern Gaza.
FIGHTING AROUND SHIFA HOSPITAL
As Israeli ground forces battle near Shifa, conditions for tens of thousands of people sheltering there have become catastrophic, said Wafaa Abu Hajjaj, a Palestinian journalist at the hospital.
She, as well as several people who left the hospital to go south, said families are sleeping in hospital rooms, emergency rooms, surgical theaters and the maternity ward — or on the streets outside. Daily food distributions helped a tiny number for a time, but there has been no bread for the past four days, they said. Water is scarce and usually polluted, and few people can bathe.
Still more families are arriving, believing it is safer than fleeing to the south, where airstrikes also continue — though some have started to leave because of nearby missile strikes and the sound of clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters, Abu Hajjaj said.
The hospital has been overwhelmed with daily waves of wounded from airstrikes, while medical supplies have been running low and electricity was shut off in many wards. The UN delivered two truckloads of supplies Wednesday night, the second delivery since the war began — enough to last a few hours, according to the hospital director.
Aid deliveries into Gaza from Egypt have reached an average of 100 trucks a day, US humanitarian envoy for the war David Satterfield said Thursday. Relief workers say that is still far below what is needed.
MORE CIVILIANS FLEEING
More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes since the war began, with hundreds of thousands heeding Israeli orders to flee to the southern part of the enclave.
The UN said 50,000 people fled south on Gaza’s main highway Wednesday. Similar-sized crowds streamed out on Thursday, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene as they arrived out of the northern zone. Shots rang out in the distance and smoke rose from blocks away as families made their way on foot with only what they could carry. Others rode on horse-drawn carts.
Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets into Israel, and some 250,000 Israelis have been forced to evacuate from communities near Gaza and along the northern border with Lebanon, where Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants have traded fire repeatedly.
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