Israel’s military on Friday directed the evacuation of northern Gaza, a region that is home to 1.1 million people, within 24 hours, a UN spokesman said.
The order, delivered to the UN, comes as Israel presses an offensive against Hamas militants.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the order “impossible” without “devastating humanitarian consequences”.
This could signal an impending ground offensive, though the Israeli military has not yet confirmed such an appeal.
Israel’s military also directed the hundreds of thousands of residents in Gaza City to evacuate “for their own safety and protection”.
The directive tells residents to flee deeper south into the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s directive said that Hamas militants were hiding in tunnels under the city.
A UN official says that the United Nations are trying to get clarity from Israeli officials at the senior most political level.
“It’s completely unprecedented,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
Panicked rumours of an evacuation had begun to spread in north Gaza, home to almost half the population of the territory early on Friday morning.
A ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas and where the population is densely packed into a sliver of land only 25 miles long, would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.
Hamas’ assault on Saturday and smaller attacks since have killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers — a toll unseen in Israel for decades — and the ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed more than 1,530 people in Gaza, according to authorities on both sides.
Israel says roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were killed inside Israel, and that hundreds of the dead in Gaza are Hamas members. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.
As Israel pounds Gaza from the air, Hamas militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Amid concerns that the fighting could spread in the region, Syrian state media reported that Israeli airstrikes on Thursday put two Syrian international airports out of service.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “crush” Hamas after the militants stormed into the country’s south on Saturday and massacred hundreds of people, including killings of children in their homes and young people at a music festival.
Amid grief and demands for vengeance among the Israeli public, the government is under intense pressure to topple Hamas rather than continuing to try to bottle it up in Gaza.
The number of people forced from their homes by Israel’s airstrikes soared 25% in a day, reaching 423,000 out of a population of 2.3 million, the UN said on Thursday. Most crowded into UN-run schools.
Earlier, the Israeli military pulverized the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and said on Thursday its complete siege of the territory would remain in place until Hamas militants free some 150 hostages taken during a grisly weekend incursion.
A visit by US secretary of state Antony Blinken, along with shipments of US weapons, offered a powerful green light to Israel to drive ahead with its retaliation in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on civilians and soldiers, even as international aid groups warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Israel has halted deliveries of basic necessities and electricity to Gaza’s 2.3 million people and prevented entry of supplies from Egypt.
Israeli energy minister Israel Katz said on social media: “Not a single electricity switch will be flipped on, not a single tap will be turned on and not a single fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub