The unprecedented evacuation order from the Israeli military unleashed a new level of panic and chaos in the territory, which has been plunged into darkness since the main power plant shut down completely two days ago after running out of fuel.
The order comes ahead of Israel’s expected counterattack after Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip launched a large-scale attack last week on southern cities in Israel, breaking through a barrier and gunning down civilians and soldiers. About 1,300 people in Israel were killed, and more than 100 hostages were taken to Gaza, Israeli officials say.
“This is just the beginning,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a nationally televised speech on Friday. “We will end this war stronger than ever.”
Some 300,000 Israeli reservists are positioned along Israel’s border with Gaza for an anticipated ground invasion. Israeli officials have vowed to defend Israel and stamp out Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza and whose military wing led the assault on Israel.
The evacuation order — which marks a dramatic escalation of Israel’s retaliation — impacts half of Gaza’s population and encompasses its largest city, Gaza City, and the territory’s main medical center, Al-Shifa Hospital.
After days of retaliatory airstrikes, the death toll in Gaza has reached 1,900, many of them children, according to Palestinian health officials. More than 7,600 people have been wounded.