What it’s like inside Gaza as mass evacuation order sparks chaos

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GAZA CITY — Maha was at home when she heard that Israel had given Gaza City’s 1.1 million people a 24-hour deadline to evacuate. At first, her neighbors dismissed it as a rumor. But when the leaflets came raining down from Israeli warplanes Friday morning, she knew it was time to go.

“You can die anywhere here,” Maha said in a phone interview, speaking on the condition that she be identified by her first name to protect her safety. “But if they’re telling us to leave, that means they are going to be doing bad things to people.”

Her brother refused to leave, so she packed his five children in the car and drove south to a friend’s house. People moved by donkey carts, auto rickshaws, and cars, loaded with bags of clothing, mattresses, even a pair of cows.

“A tuk-tuk would be carrying 15 people,” she said. “People are running red lights, no one is stopping.” Eventually, they reached Khan Yunis, taking refuge in a two-story house with more than 30 other people.

Hospital beds and medicine are running low in the Gaza Strip as Israel has clamped down on items entering the enclave of 2.1 million people. (Video: Reuters)

The unprecedented Israeli evacuation order, delivered Friday by fliers, voice messages and on social media, has set off a desperate and chaotic scramble across this besieged territory. Israel has dropped more than 6,000 bombs on Gaza since Saturday, and they are still falling, even as hundreds of thousands of people try to move south.

Population by municipality

Israel urged

people in

north Gaza

to evacuate

Kerem Shalom



Source: Palestinian Central

Bureau of Statistics

Population by municipality

Israel urged

people in

north Gaza

to evacuate

Kerem Shalom



Source: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

Population by municipality

Israel urged people in

north Gaza to evacuate

Kerem Shalom

commercial crossing

Source: Palestinian Central

Bureau of Statistics

“In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City,” the Israel Defense Forces said Friday, adding that Hamas militants were hiding in tunnels beneath civilian homes and in heavily populated areas. “Civilians of Gaza City, 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, the Islamist militant group that controls the strip and killed at least 1,300 people in a surprise attack on Israel last weekend, declared the evacuation order “psychological warfare” and called on Palestinians to remain “steadfast” in their homes.

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Gazans who left northern neighborhoods Friday said the main roads south were busy for the first time since the war began, but traffic was moving — suggesting many people had not yet fled. Cars only slowed to a crawl when piles of rubble, electrical wires or downed telephone poles obstructed the road.

The cars that were on the road were completely full, some packed so tight that thin mattresses hung out of windows and blankets were wedged up against back windows.

Some families were leaving on foot, calling out for cars to give them a ride. People yelled the names of neighborhoods in the south: “Khan Yunis! Nuseirat!”

The United Nations urged Israel to rescind the “horrendous” evacuation order, saying it could transform “what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.” The International Committee of the Red Cross warned of “catastrophic humanitarian consequences.”

James Elder, spokesman for UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, described agonizing conversations with staff members in northern Gaza: “The word ‘impossible’ was used so many times, in terms of, ‘It’s impossible for us to do this, they are asking the impossible.’ I was talking to people through tears. These are resilient people who have been through a lot but are absolutely out of options.”

A 33-year-old woman in Gaza City, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity for her safety, is staying with some 50 members of her family, including her elderly mother and father. She doesn’t know how she would evacuate them, even if she could find a vehicle.

“There are no cars to take us anywhere,” she said. “There is no gas in cars. Cab companies don’t have cars anymore. The streets are so, so, so, so crowded, it’s like it’s the Day of Judgement.”

More than 400,000 Gazans have already been displaced, many from communities near the Israeli border. They have sought shelter in U.N. schools, crowding into classrooms and sleeping on desks. But those too have been hit by airstrikes in recent days.

The bombing has been relentless around Maha’s Gaza City home. A building just 100 feet away was destroyed, rocking her with the shock wave.

“If I’m going to die, that’s fine, but I don’t want to live and see this,” she said.

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Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, was packing to leave Gaza City with his wife and five children when The Post reached him by phone.

“People are evacuating but they have no place to stay, it’s total chaos,” he said. Their neighborhood of Rimal has already been almost completely destroyed by airstrikes. Still, Abusada had been planning to stay.

“I was hesitant to go, and I didn’t want to, but my family wants to leave,” he said. “I don’t really care what happens to me. But you feel for your family.”

Israel sealed its land borders with Gaza after the Hamas attack Saturday, and the Rafah border crossing with Egypt — the last remaining exit — has been closed for days after a series of Israeli strikes in the area. When it does reopen, only a small number of Gazans are likely to be able to cross to safety.

“People have been calling me all morning asking if I can help them find a place to stay,” said Wesam Amer, a university lecturer who lives in Khan Younis and is already hosting extended family members. He doesn’t know of a single building in the area that has space for more. And the people keep coming.

“There is nowhere,” he said, “and nowhere is safe.”

More than 1,500 people in Gaza have been killed since Saturday and more than 6,600 have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Medical facilities are on the brink of collapse.

Ten hospitals have been damaged since Oct. 7, including Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital. Northern Gaza’s only health-care facility in Beit Hanoun fully suspended services after repeated airstrikes on Oct. 9.

Outside al-Shifa, the injured are rushed into the emergency room covered in thick layers of dust. A young girl lifted out of an ambulance had deep shrapnel wounds running up her right arm and shoulder, suggesting that she tried to shield her face from an explosion.

Inside the hospital, doctors say they are running out of resources and fear they could soon be plunged into darkness. Israel has imposed a total siege on Gaza, cutting electricity and deliveries of fuel. Health officials say al-Shifa only has three more days worth of generator fuel; other Gaza hospitals could be out within a week.

“Doctors will have to make decisions on who lives and who dies,” said Elder, the UNICEF spokesman. “When you’re talking about moving children with wounds of war or in the ICU — they can’t be moved, and that’s the demand.”

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Israeli airstrikes have also destroyed ambulances and killed at least 16 health-care workers, according to data from Palestinian officials and international aid groups.

A Palestinian Red Crescent team was responding to an emergency Wednesday in northern Gaza when their ambulance was hit by an airstrike, said spokesperson Nebal Farsakh, who saw images of the aftermath.

“The ambulance was just in pieces,” she said. The same day, another medical team came under small-arms fire in eastern Gaza and one health worker was killed.

“We have been providing services for decades and we have never experienced such horror,” Farsakh said.

At hospitals in Gaza, medical supplies are rapidly running out as the demand for treatment surges, according to a medical worker inside the enclave who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety.

Some suppliers are still able to deliver material, but are not willing to travel into Gaza City and other areas under heavy bombardment. Health officials are scouring warehouses for discarded beds and other broken equipment that might be usable.

“They don’t have enough rooms, the ICUs are completely full,” the medical worker said.

Israeli officials allege that Hamas is using human shields, and say the group bears responsibility for airstrikes that destroy civilian infrastructure or kill innocent people.

“Wherever there is a terrorist trying to execute terrorist actions against the state of Israel, they will be hit,” Masha Michelson, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, told The Post.

Michelson refused to comment on specific airstrikes, but said in general when targets are identified that could result in “high casualties” — or that involve buildings that serve civilian purposes — there are additional “security checks” to mitigate the risk to noncombatants.

Israel’s military has vowed that its anticipated land invasion will destroy Hamas, saying the group’s attack last weekend had “unleashed the floodgates of hell” on Gaza.

“If this is the first phase, we are terrified of what the next phase will be,” said Amer, the university lecturer in Khan Yunis.

George and Hendrix reported from Jerusalem, Dadouch from Beirut and Brown from Washington. Claire Parker in Cairo and Meg Kelly in Washington contributed to this report

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