Israel has issued what appears to be a final ultimatum to Palestinians who are still living in the northern Gaza Strip to leave – as it delivered its heaviest hint yet that a long-threatened ground invasion is imminent.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari has issued what he labelled an ‘urgent military advisory’ video message, warning Gazans that the military was set to ‘neutralise’ Hamas with ‘precision and intensity’.
Northern Gaza was subjected to some of the heaviest bombardment carried out yet by the IDF overnight on Friday as some 150 ‘underground targets’ were struck by jets and shelling, destroying hundreds of buildings.
The Gazan death toll, since Israel’s retaliation began following the October 7 attacks conducted by Hamas terrorists, now stands at 7,703, including over 3,000 children, according to Palestinian health officials.
Some 400,000 Palestinians are believed to remain in the north of the occupied territory despite repeated requests to evacuate – around 1.1 million people were believed to be there before the first warnings were issued earlier this month.
A leaflet has been prepared urging Gazans to move south of the Wadi Gaza river valley
The leaflet, written in Arabic, roughly translates as: ‘To the residents of the Gaza Strip, Gaza Governorate has become a battlefield…you must evacuate immediately’
Wreckage of collapsed buildings and trees in the southern city of Rafah, Gaza, on Saturday
Israel is continuing to bombard the Gaza Strip into Saturday after intense overnight shelling against what it said were 150 ‘underground targets’ harbouring Hamas fighters and supplies
Residents inspect the wreckage of a building destroyed by Israeli shelling at the Al-Shatee coastal refugee camp in Gaza City
IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari gave what was Israel’s strongest hint yet that a ground offensive was imminent in the video message
In the video message, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Hagari said: ‘We urge all residents of Northern Gaza and Gaza City to temporarily relocate south.
‘This is a temporary measure. Moving back to Northern Gaza will be possible once the intense hostilities end.’
The Israeli military spokesperson claimed that Hamas was sheltering weapons and troops in schools, mosques and hospitals, adding: ‘The impending IDF operation is set to neutralise the threat of Hamas with precision and intensity.
‘Humanity remains haunted by the massacre unleashed by Hamas on October 7. We won’t forget that.
‘Your window to act is closing. Move south for your own safety.’
The video was issued across social media. Internet access in Gaza remains sporadic after internet cables and phone networks were severed in the midst of last night’s heavy bombardments.
Leaflets have also been produced by the IDF warning that the Gaza Governorate – referring to the northern administrative area of the strip containing Gaza City – has become a ‘battlefield’ and that the enclave north of the Wadi Gaza valley is ‘unsafe’.
An image of the leaflet, written in Arabic, was shared on X, formerly Twitter, by IDF Arabic spokesperson Avichay Adraee.
In the meantime, Gazans who have refused to leave the north of the enclave despite Israel’s warnings to do so are living in a state of ‘panic, fear and chaos’ amid the heaviest bombardments yet since October 7 and a total communications blackout.
Images of the Palestinian occupied territory showed devastation as Israel deprived civilians, journalists and aid agencies of electricity, internet or phone signal.
The IDF has deployed ground troops and tanks in Gaza after bombarding 150 ‘underground targets’ said to harbour Hamas terrorists across the north of the region; more vehicles and thousands of troops are gathering in Israeli border towns.
Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said: ‘The operation in Gaza is to continue until there is a new order.’
The state is beginning to allow humanitarian aid into southern Gaza while it continues to bombard the north; military chiefs say they killed two ‘spearhead’ Hamas commanders overnight, including an architect of the October 7 attacks that killed 1,400 Israelis.
Calls have been made by observers to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Israel stepped up its aerial assault on northern parts of the enclave overnight, claiming to target around 150 ‘underground targets’ harbouring Hamas terrorists
People gather amid the destruction around the Al-Shatee camp on Saturday after the latest round of bombardments
Women walk past a destroyed building in the southern Gazan city of Rafah on Saturday
Families pass by scenes of devastation in Gaza on Saturday morning after Israel carried out its most intense campaign of bombardment yet following the October 7 attacks
Smoke rises from an explosion in Gaza on Saturday. Israel says forces are ‘still deployed out there and continuing their campaign’
Israeli troops give a thumbs-up to a photographer as they pass through the border town of Sderot, less than a kilometre from Gaza
People gather in the streets at the Al-Shatee refugee camp in northern Gaza, which was subjected to heavy bombardment by Israel overnight into Saturday
Despite this, UK foreign secretary James Cleverly claims Hamas has given no indication it ‘desires or would abide by calls for a ceasefire’.
Mr Cleverly has also urged the thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters who marched in Britain today to be ‘conscious of disinformation and manipulation’ following reports Iran is attempting to use the rallies to sow division.
He told reporters on Saturday: ‘Of course we want to see this resolved, we want to see Israel safe, peaceful and secure.
‘But, as yet, I have seen or heard nothing from Hamas that gives me any confidence that they desire or would abide by calls for a ceasefire.’
With the internet cut, Palestinians in Gaza traveled by foot or car to check on their relatives and friends after a night of airstrikes described by some as the most intense they had witnessed, even during previous Gaza wars.
BBC correspondent Rushi Abualouf, speaking from the southern city of Khan Younis, said: ‘We have had no communication here for the last 10 hours as Israel cut internet lines, fibre lines, also the two main mobile carriers were stopped, so people were unable to communicate with each other.
‘(It is) a state of panic, fear and chaos; very chaotic scenes in the street. People don’t know what to do in these circumstances.’
‘The bombs were everywhere, the building was shaking,’ said Hind al-Khudary, a journalist in central Gaza and one of a few people with cell phone service.
‘We can’t reach anyone or contact anyone. I do not know where my family is.’
Human Rights Watch warned the information blackout ‘risks providing cover for mass atrocities and contributing to impunity for human rights violations.’
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which runs shelters and schools for nearly half of all displaced Gaza residents, has lost contact with most of its staff, spokeswoman Juliette Touma said on Saturday.
She said that coordinating aid efforts was now ‘extremely challenging.’
Tedros Adhanom, head of the World Health Organization, said the blackout has made it impossible for ambulances to reach the injured.
‘We are still out of touch with our staff and health facilities. I’m worried about their safety,’ he wrote on X ,formerly known as Twitter.
Another innocent Palestinian civilian was killed today as Bilal Abu Salah, 40, was ‘shot in the chest by a settler’ in the village of Sawiya near Nablus, a ministry statement said.
Sawiya mayor Mahmud Hassan said Abu Salah was killed while he was harvesting olives with other members of his family in their fields located not far from the security fence around Rechelim settlement.
‘They were attacked by four settlers, and one of them who was armed with an M16 rifle opened fire at them without warning,’ Hassan said.
‘Abu Salah was hit in the chest and was martyred in front of his family and children.’
Elsewhere, Melanie Ward, chief executive of charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that she had not been able to reach humanitarian workers operating within Gaza since 4pm on Friday.
She added: ‘Phones won’t connect, WhatsApp messages won’t deliver – we are desperately worried for all of our colleagues.’
Speaking earlier on Saturday, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said: ‘On the humanitarian aspect: to all Gaza residents who have moved on south of the Gaza stream we are going to increase our humanitarian efforts.
‘More trucks carrying food, meds and water will enter. Anybody in that area which is safe will receive water, medication and food.’
UN trucks carrying humanitarian aid roll up in the Palestinian city of Deir al-Balah; Israel had promised to allow aid agencies in via Egypt
Palestinians carry food aid from a UN-run supply centre on Saturday morning as deliveries were made from the southern border with Egypt
Men carry boxes of UN-issued humanitarian aid after it was delivered to the Palestinian occupied Gaza territory on Saturday
Palestinians examine destroyed buildings in Gaza City on Saturday. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is sending ground troops and armoured vehicles into the occupied territory
A young boy holds up a fake flower he round in the rubble of a building following Israel’s intensifying aerial strikes on Friday night
A man sits in front of devastated buildings and rubble in the streets of Gaza City on Saturday after fierce overnight bombardment carried out by Israel
UN trucks carrying aid have been arriving in Gaza today; images show people carrying staple food supplies and boxes of goods.
But amid the blackouts, aid workers are concerned that they cannot communicate effectively in trying to distribute other aid.
Melanie Ward, chief executive of charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that she had not been able to reach humanitarian workers operating within Gaza since 4pm on Friday.
She added: ‘Phones won’t connect, WhatsApp messages won’t deliver – we are desperately worried for all of our colleagues.’
Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Program, said the organization was ‘extremely worried’ about aid workers and civilians in Gaza following the blackout preventing communications its team.
‘As conflict rages on, I am extremely worried for the safety of all humanitarian workers and civilians, she said on X. ‘We are at a tipping point. Humanity must prevail.’
Guillemette Thomas, Palestinian territories medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said the aid group had not able to reach its team for more than 12 hours.
‘The situation is very difficult,’ she told The Associated Press. ‘We can’t communicate with our team. We don’t know whether they are safe.’
International observers have called for a cessation to the bombardment and the brokering of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres wrote on X: ‘I repeat my call for a humanitarian ceasefire in the Middle East, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the delivery of life-saving supplies at the scale needed.
‘Everyone must assume their responsibilities. This is a moment of truth. History will judge us all.’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed on Saturday that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza runs counter to international law and risks creating a catastrophe that could last decades.
Lavrov made the comments, some of Moscow’s most critical of Israel yet, in an interview with the Belarusian state news agency Belta, which released them on Saturday.
An Israeli artillery emplacement fires a mortar shell towards the Gaza Strip on Saturday. Witnesses say the latest round of bombardment is some of the most brutal yet
A missile strikes a minaret in Gaza on Saturday – as Israel’s deadly overnight bombing of the enclave continued into the daytime
Israeli jeeps patrol a street in Sderot on the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday
Israeli tanks and off-road vehicles continue to gather along the border after the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it had sent troops and armour into Gaza
‘While we condemn terrorism, we categorically disagree that you can respond to terrorism by violating the norms of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminately using force against targets where civilians are known to be present, including hostages that have been taken,’ said Lavrov.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack.
In addition, 229 people, including foreigners, children and older adults, were taken by Hamas during the incursion and remain in captivity in Gaza. So far, four hostages were released earlier.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Friday that Gaza faces ‘an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering’ due to lack of food, water and power during Israeli bombing in response to the Hamas attack.
‘I repeat my call for a humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the delivery of life-saving supplies,’ Mr Guterres said.
Before the war, about 500 trucks a day rolled into Gaza to bring in supplies, but in recent days the average is down to only 12, which enter from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, he said.