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"Israeli forces have asked us to leave our homes and go towards South Gaza. I am leaving too. Please pray for us,” 52-year-old Kashmiri woman Lubna Nazir Wani Toman told The Quint a few minutes before she was forced to evacuate her home in Gaza City.
In an unprecedented move, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) on Friday, 13 October, told almost half the population on the Gaza Strip to evacuate northern Gaza and move southwards within 24 hours “for their own safety and protection.”
The warning comes ahead of Israel military's possible ground invasion against militant group Hamas – and includes Gaza City where the IDF admits to "continue to operate with significant force".
Meanwhile, Farida (name changed to protect identity), a Palestinian humanitarian worker living in Gaza City, told The Quint:
“Israeli air strikes took our families, our livelihoods away. They bombed away all our possessions, killed our people and now, they want us to leave our homes in 24 hours' notice. This is the beginning of our end.”
'1.2 Million Gazans Moving'
Hailing from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, Lubna has lived in conflict-ridden Gaza since 1997. "But this time, the situation is different," she told The Quint two days back, describing the round-the-clock retaliatory attack by Israel against Hamas on the Gaza Strip.
Now, following the IDF’s announcement on Friday, Lubna spoke to The Quint again. As she prepared to evacuate, she said, “We are not safe, bombs are raining down on us.”
Meanwhile, her brother Sohail Nazir Wani said that his sister is among 1.2 million Gazans who are moving to some other area “as we speak.”
Lubna's family claims that despite repeated attempts, they have not received any communication from the Indian authorities on Lubna's evacuation, including the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
“I called the Delhi control center again and gave them her number,” Sohail said, adding that he has not heard back from any of the authorities since he first reached out to them.
However, at the MEA weekly press briefing on Thursday, 12 October, when spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was asked about "a Kashmiri lady stranded in Gaza whose husband is Palestinian," he said:
“You mentioned about Gaza... yes, our 3 or 4 citizens are there. We are in contact with them.”
“However, there are currently some constraints in directly bringing them out, but we are making efforts to provide solution and will provide whatever assistance we can,” he added.
The Quint was redirected to the above statement when we reached out to the MEA.
As the war enters its seventh day, at least 1,300 civilians and soldiers have lost their lives in Israel, according to the country's military, while the Palestinian health ministry said that 1,400 have been killed – including at least 447 children – and over 6,000 have been injured.
IDF Calls for Evacuation, Hamas Says Stay Put
In a statement accessed by The Quint, the IDF said:
“The IDF calls for the evacuation of all civilians from Gaza City, from their homes, southwards, for their own safety and protection, and to move to the area south of wadi Gaza, the river Gaza, as shown on the map. The Hamas terrorist organisation waged a war against the state of Israel, and Gaza City is an area where military operations are taking place. This evacuation is for your own safety. You will be able to return to Gaza City only when another announcement permitting it is made.”
It further ordered Palestinian “civilians” not to approach “area of the security fence of Israel,” claiming that Hamas militants are “hiding in Gaza City, inside tunnels, underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent civilians…”
In response to the IDF's directive, CNN on Friday, 13 October reported that Hamas told Gaza residents not to leave their homes, accusing Israel of “psychological warfare”.
“The occupation is attempting to spread and circulate false propaganda through various means, aiming to create confusion among citizens and undermine the stability of our internal front,” Hamas' statement said. The Quint has not independently verified the statement.
Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) sounded the alarm on Israel's directive. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric warned that the evacuation order was "impossible" to implement without "devastating humanitarian consequences".
"The UN strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation."Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson
The UN also stated that it was informed of the directive just before midnight (local time) on Thursday, 12 October.
The directive issued by Israel's military could be a signal for an imminent ground invasion – something that has apparently been in the works for several days. The IDF have also mobilised at least 360,000 reservists along the Gaza border.
However, the country has not yet officially announced its decision to launch a ground offensive against Palestine.