The family of an Al Jazeera correspondent in the Gaza Strip has received a threatening phone call claiming to come from the Israeli army, warning them to immediately leave their home as Israel steps up its bombardment of the besieged enclave.
Youmna ElSayed’s husband received the call on Monday and was told to flee Gaza City and head south, even though there are no safe routes out of the area.
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ElSayed said the phone call came from a private number. “The caller addressed my husband with his full name and told him that, ‘This is the Israeli army, we are telling you to evacuate south because in the coming hours it is going to be very dangerous in the area where you are at’,” she said, with the sound of explosions going off all around her.
The correspondent said there are seven families comprising about 100 people who currently live in the building, but only hers was contacted. “None of the other six families got a warning call from the Israeli military, like we did, so this was a direct threat just to us, to our family.”
ElSayed said it was too “risky” to flee amid the heavy Israeli bombardment that has intensified as Israel deepens its ground offensive inside the Gaza Strip. On Monday, Israeli tanks reached the outskirts of Gaza City and briefly cut the main road linking the north of the Strip to its south.
“I don’t know how safe it would be to actually take our car and leave and drive under this heavy bombardment. It’s very risky, it doesn’t seem safe at all,” said ElSayed, adding that the continuing bombardment in the south does not offer any guarantees that people moving there will be safe.
The Israeli army in recent weeks has warned the 1.1 million people living in northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to evacuate south as it steps up its attacks following a surprise assault by Hamas, the group running the Strip, inside Israel more than three weeks ago. However, residents say nowhere is safe and there are no safe routes to evacuate as the most intense bombardment in recent memory continues.
In a statement, Al Jazeera said it “condemns the Israeli threat” towards ElSayed and her family.
“This vile threat comes only a few days after the indiscriminate killing of the family of Al Jazeera Arabic’s journalist, Wael al-Dahdouh, who were asked to move south before being bombed,” it said.
On Tuesday, an Israeli attack killed Dahdouh’s wife, 44-year-old Amna; his 16-year-old son, Mahmoud; his seven-year-old daughter, Sham; and his grandchild, Adam.
Meanwhile, at least 29 journalists have been killed since the start of the war: 24 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese, according to a tally by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“Israel’s actions continue with impunity as they attempt to silence the messenger,” Al Jazeera’s statement said. “Al Jazeera strongly condemns these acts of violence and calls on international institutions to intervene and protect journalists and all innocent civilians.”
Commenting on the phone call received by ElSayed’s family, Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa programme coordinater at the CPJ, said his organisation was “extremely alarmed”.
“A lot of Palestinian journalists have been taking a lot of risks reporting from Gaza,” Mansour told Al Jazeera.
“They face exponential risks and have already paid a heavy toll. Many of them have lost colleagues, media facilities, families and had to flee seeking safety when there is no safe haven or exit.”
Khadija Patel, chairperson of the International Press Institute, also described the threat as a “very worrying” development.
“This is an indication of deliberate targeting of journalists, something that we are concerned about as part of a trend that we are seeing within this conflict,” she told Al Jazeera.
“We want to … urge the Israeli forces to protect the lives and work of journalists in this war.”
Israel’s bombardment has killed at least 8,306 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7. In Israel, more than 1,400 people have been killed in Hamas’s attack.