Israel announces 6-hour window for Gazans fleeing south, as troops gather near border


A blast has struck a convoy on an evacuation route in Gaza, killing a number of people including several children, after a stark deadline ahead of a possible Israeli ground assault.

The IDF told civilians in and around Gaza City Friday that they must move south to avoid being caught up in Israeli military operations and announced a six-hour evacuation window on Saturday.

Israel has massed troops and military equipment at the border with Gaza, and continued bombarding the densely populated territory in response to the deadly October 7 attacks by the Islamist militant group, Hamas.

Videos authenticated by CNN showed a scene of extensive destruction following Friday’s blast on Salah Al-Deen street. A number of bodies, including those of children, can be seen on on a flat-bed trailer that appears to have been used to carry people away from Gaza City. There are also a number of badly burned and damaged cars.

It’s unclear what caused the widespread devastation. CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment on any airstrikes in the same location.

Even before the evacuation warning, more than 400,000 Palestinians had already been internally displaced by the past week of fighting as conditions worsen inside the bombarded strip.

But the evacuation statement and the prospect of a potential incursion have been sharply criticized by rights groups, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) head, who warned that such a move could bring “catastrophic humanitarian consequences.”

The IDF announced on Saturday it would allow people to move south “for their own safety” on specified streets of Gaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time, according to a statement shared by the IDF’s Arabic spokesperson Avishay Adraee on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The IDF claimed Hamas leaders had already taken measures to protect themselves from strikes in the area.

It is unclear how widely the messaging has been received on the ground given the current electricity and internet blackout.

When asked by CNN how this six-hour window has been communicated to citizens in Gaza, IDF spokesperson Maj. Doron Spielman said that “everybody in Gaza City now knows exactly what’s happening.”

“They’ve been notified in Arabic, in multiple languages on every available platform, both electronic and non-electronic platforms. Everyone in Gaza City knows that they need to go past Wadi Gaza.”

Spielman confirmed the IDF had dropped leaflets informing people in Gaza about the IDF’s announcement.

However, CNN has talked to a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school official, a paramedic and a journalist on the ground who were all unaware of this latest advisory on Saturday.

People carrying foreign passports wait at the Rafah gate hoping to cross into Egypt as Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip continues on October 14, 2023.
Palestinians with dual citizenship wait outside Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Palestinian-Americans have been waiting for the Rafah border crossing into Egypt to open Saturday, after the US State Department sent out guidance to families Friday telling them that it “may be open” Saturday afternoon.

“They told everybody to be here at 12, it’s been two hours almost, nobody showed up, nobody is here to open the gates.” Haneen Okal, a New Jersey resident, waiting with her three children, said.

“People are waiting at the Rafah crossing point but it’s not open and there is no clear direction from the embassy,” said Mai Abushaaban, a 22-year-old from Houston who is in contact with her family at the border.

CNN has reached out to the State Department and the US National Security Council for comment.

Palestinians with their belongings flee to safer areas in Gaza City after Israeli air strikes on October 13, 2023.
Palestinians wait at the Rafah border crossing.
Palestinians with foreign passports arrive at the Rafah gate.

More than 2 million Palestinians – including over a million children – live in the 140-square-mile Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

Images from Gaza have shown a mass rush toward the south of the coastal enclave beginning Friday. Civilians crammed into cars, taxis, pickup trucks and even donkey-pulled carts. Roads were filled with snaking lines of vehicles strapped with suitcases and mattresses.

Those without other options walked, carrying what they could. Some have stayed put regardless, telling CNN they felt nowhere was safe.

Since the evacuation order was issued Friday, Israeli military airstrikes have killed 70 evacuees and injured 200 more, Hamas’ media office told CNN.

Palestinian medical services and civil defense crews were targeted by an Israeli strike at the site of a rescue operation in northern Gaza on Saturday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and National Security.

“Occupation forces target civil defense crews and medical services while they were working to rescue martyrs and wounded from the house of the Dahman family in the northern Gaza Strip, early this morning, Saturday,” the ministry said in a statement.

Some healthcare facilities in the north of Gaza and Gaza City have said they will not be complying with Israel’s evacuation orders, as these “threats effectively act as a ‘death sentence’ for the thousands of injured and patients housed within these facilities.”

Saturday morning marked one week since Hamas’ unprecedented and bloody attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,300 people and led to the capture of civilian and military hostages now believed to be held in Gaza.

The surprise attack, widely described as Israel’s 9/11, saw waves of heavily armed Hamas fighters rampage through rural Israeli towns, kibbutzim and army bases.

In response, Israel ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, including blocking food, water and fuel, while mounting its heaviest ever airstrikes on the enclave.

International observers warn the cutoff will see Gaza civilians die by starvation, disease and lack of medical care for the growing numbers of dying and wounded.

Hostilities spilled over between the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and IDF forces on Saturday in the disputed Shebaa farms, near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel said it returned fire after Hezbollah launched an attack on the territory – a disputed strip of land between Lebanon and Syria adjoining the Golan Heights, under Israeli control.

Residents of Gaza City load a car with their belongings as they begin to evacuate on October 14.

The UN has described the situation in the Gaza Strip as a matter of “life and death,” warning that the clean water supply for the 2 million people there is running dangerously low. The UN also warned of increasing risks of waterborne diseases.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Saturday called on Israel to not target its shelters in Gaza, warning that many people, including pregnant women and elderly or disabled people, will be unable to flee the area.

At least 2,215 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza from Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said in an update Saturday. That toll includes 724 children.

An overwhelmed hospital in Gaza has resorted to using ice cream trucks from local factories as makeshift morgues to supplement the overflowing hospital mortuaries.

Dr. Yasser Khatab, a forensic pathologist in al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital, said in a video message sent to CNN on Saturday that the hospital in Deir al-Balah is unable to accommodate the increasing number of deceased.

UN officials were initially told by Israel on Thursday that the relocation of Gaza residents should happen within 24 hours. But Israel has since acknowledged that the mass migration order will take time, and IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Friday that any deadline “may slip,” adding to the uncertainty swirling.

Another IDF spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, claimed on Saturday that Hamas was trying to stop Palestinian civilians from evacuating “via messages and also checkpoints and stops on the ground,” citing media reports.

When asked by CNN whether the evacuation order suggested an impending ground incursion, Conricus said the IDF would “assess the situation on the ground” and “see how many civilians are left in the area … Once we see that the situation will be permissible for significant combat operations, then they will commence.”

The IDF also said Saturday that its fighter jets had struck operational headquarters used by Hamas militants, killing the head of the Hamas Aerial System in Gaza City, who the military claimed was “largely responsible for directing terrorists” during last week’s attack on Israel.

Israel’s evacuation deadline has raised international alarm and sharp criticism from some rights groups, especially as critical supplies run out and deaths rise in the isolated enclave, from which residents say they have no escape.

“The order to evacuate 1.1 million people from northern Gaza defies the rules of war and basic humanity,” wrote OCHA head Martin Griffiths in a statement late Friday. “Roads and homes (in Gaza) have been reduced to rubble. There is nowhere safe to go.”

The territory has been under a land, sea and air blockade enforced by Israel since 2007, with more than half its residents living below the poverty line even before the latest conflict. Now there’s only one corridor left for Palestinians to flee or for aid to enter, connecting Gaza to Egypt – and it’s not clear if that’s even operational.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme said it distributed food to 135,000 people in shelters across Gaza on Friday, but warned “humanitarian supplies are running low.”

OCHA added that most people now have no access to water in the strip. “As a last resort, people are consuming brackish water from agricultural wells, triggering serious concerns about the spread of waterborne diseases,” it said.

In response, Israel’s ambassador to the UN said on Friday the government is doing “all that we can to minimize civilian casualties” by issuing the evacuation order, and accused the UN of not wanting Israel to “defend itself.”

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