About 5,000 people left the northern half of Gaza during a four-hour window given by the Israeli military on Monday, according to United Nations monitors, a day after Israel said its forces had cleaved the territory in two.
Israel has been urging Gazans to move south to what it said would be relative safety as its forces have closed in on densely populated Gaza City in the north of the enclave. Nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes amid the warnings and widespread Israeli airstrikes, according to the United Nations.
Because of heavy damage to roads leading to the main junction to travel south, the only option to flee south was on foot, according to a report from the United Nations’ humanitarian and emergency relief office on Monday. During the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. window given by the Israeli military, during which it said it would allow traffic along the corridor, children and older and disabled people were walking long distances carrying their belongings to leave northern Gaza, the report said.
Over the weekend, Israeli officials renewed their calls for civilians to move south. The Israeli military said an attempt to open a passage on Saturday was thwarted by a Hamas attack, a claim that could not be verified. On Sunday, fewer than 2,000 people left during a four-hour window, according to the report.
Israel has accused Hamas of preventing Gazan civilians from leaving their homes in order to use them as “human shields,” which Hamas denies. Gazans who have heeded the warnings and gone south have said they faced Israeli bombardment along the way, as well as after arriving in the southern half of the territory.
Late Sunday, the military said that after two Israeli columns surrounded Gaza City, the Gaza Strip was in effect divided in half. “Essentially today there is a northern Gaza and a southern Gaza,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman.