Israel asks Palestinians to evacuate, but is any place safe in Gaza?

Israel has issued an evacuation map asking Palestinians to move south as it intensifies attacks on the besieged enclave.

Smoke rises at the site of a house destroyed in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Khan Younis, which was considered a safe zone before the truce ended, is now a scene of destruction [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

The Israeli military has ordered the evacuation of Palestinians from southern Gaza as it continues with the bombardment in the area following the collapse of a weeklong truce on Friday. But Palestinians and rights groups question the Israeli decision to step up bombing in the besieged enclave’s south, which was declared a safe zone when the war began about two months ago.

This has left Palestinians in Gaza with virtually nowhere to go.

Here is what we know so far:

How many people were displaced from the north to the south?

More than one million Palestinians have been displaced from northern Gaza since October 13, when the Israeli military ordered people to evacuate to the south on 24 hours’ notice. More than 15,500 Palestinians have been killed and northern Gaza has since been devastated in weeks of indiscriminate bombings.

INTERACTIVE - The Wadi Gaza move south Israel population-1697173147

About 958,000 displaced Palestinians were registered in 99 UNRWA shelters in the centre and south of Gaza, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA; 70 of these centres are in the southern cities of Rafah and Khan Younis. Another 191,000 were estimated to be in informal collective shelters: 124 public schools, hospitals, wedding halls, offices, and community centres. The rest were hosted by families, added OCHA.

OCHA reported that the UNRWA shelters are now overcrowded and have poor sanitary conditions, which has led to outbreaks of infections and diseases such as Hepatitis A.

What is happening in Khan Younis?

Israel has declared Khan Younis “a dangerous combat zone” after the truce ended, pummeling the besieged enclave’s second-largest city – home to 430,000 people.

On Sunday, Israel’s military designated about 20 percent of Khan Younis for immediate evacuation. The marked area houses 21 shelters and 50,000 internally displaced people, mostly from the north of Gaza, according to OCHA.

Israel ordered the evacuation as it has expanded its bombardment, killing more than 800 Palestinians in Gaza in the past three days. Residents say they have been told to move to Rafah, which has also not been spared.

Khan Younis was a designated safe space before the truce ended and 215,000 displaced Palestinians were sheltering in 34 UNRWA shelters in the city. Tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians took shelter in other places provided by the local authorities.

INTERACTIVE - Israel Gaza War Map - Israel bombards Khan Younis and Rafah

What Israel’s evacuation map tells us

The Israeli army published an online map of the Gaza Strip on Friday, dividing the enclave into more than 600 numbered blocks. It asked Gaza’s civilians to identify the block corresponding with their area of residence and evacuate when ordered.

On Saturday, Israel used the grid system to order evacuation for the first time when military spokesperson Avichay Adraee posted warnings online, urging Palestinians to evacuate from about 20 areas zones in Gaza, with three arrows on a map, all pointing south indicating where people should go.

However, leaflets distributed ordering evacuations are inconsistent with online warnings, which has confused the residents.

Furthermore, several Gaza residents have no reliable way to access the map, with little access to electricity or the internet since the blockade of the 365sq km (141sq miles) strip has resulted in a collapse of telecommunications infrastructure.

The military offensive continues as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday the war will not end until its goal of destroying Hamas was achieved despite international outcry against the staggering number of Palestinian casualties. Nearly 70 Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground invasion in Gaza.

Israel promised vengeance after the Hamas armed group carried out a surprise attack on October 7 inside Israel, killing up to 1,200 people.

Are there any safe zones in Gaza?

“There are no safe areas,” Lebanon-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Sunday.

The Israeli military said on X on Monday that it was defining “safe areas” for civilians to minimise harm to them. However, Al Jazeera journalists and people on the ground say it is difficult to heed these orders in real time when there is no safe place left in the enclave.

Even shelters are not safe, as of November 23, UNRWA reported that at least 191 displaced Palestinians in shelters were killed and 798 were injured.

An analysis of the casualty figures shows that nearly 80 percent of the people killed in Israeli attacks are civilians.

Israel on Saturday ordered residents of neighbourhoods in the east of Gaza City, including Shujayea, Zeitoun and the Old City, to evacuate to the west.

Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, told Sky News that al-Mawasi, a narrow coastal Bedouin town towards the south, is a safe zone and is one of the shelters created with aid organisations. When Sky News correspondents visited al-Mawasi to investigate, they found no shelter arrangements such as agency tents or food kitchens.

Some Palestinians are fleeing for the fourth time since the outbreak of violence on October 7.

Rafik al-Rekeb who was displaced from Bani Suheila in Khan Younis, told Al Jazeera: “A safe area should be equipped with all the necessities” such as tents.

“There aren’t any safe areas in Gaza. Am I supposed to sleep with my children in the rain in this designated safe area?” said al-Rekeb.

The UN has called Gaza “a death zone” and “a graveyard for children”, calling for a pause in the fighting. It has struggled to bring in aid due to Israel’s total siege of the enclave. The supply of aid, however, picked up during the one-week truce.

“The people in Gaza are staring into the humanitarian abyss,” former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies