Middle East

Gazans wave white flags and hold up ID papers as they flee south

By Abeer Salman, Eyad Kourdi, David Shortell and Lauren Kent, CNN

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Waving white flags and holding identification papers aloft, residents of northern Gaza were seen fleeing south during a four-hour window allotted by the Israel Defense Forces for civilians to escape Tuesday.

Videos from the scene, including one published by the IDF, show scores of Palestinians heading south, including children, women and elderly people.

Speaking to CNN before crossing an IDF checkpoint set up on Salah Eddin Street, one of the two primary north-south highways in Gaza, evacuees said they had been walking for hours. Some carried nothing but water bottles, while others held white flags, signaling their hope for safe passage.

The IDF has repeatedly called on civilians to move south of Wadi Gaza as it intensifies its assault on Hamas in Gaza City and northern Gaza.

Wedad Al-Ghoul, traveling with her young son, said she had walked 8 to 9 kilometers so far (roughly 5 miles) from her home on Gaza’s coast.

“I am carrying my ID because I was told it (the passage) will be safe, I don’t know if I am going to be allowed to enter or arrive to the south,” she said.

Palestinians carry their belongings as they flee their houses, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City November 7, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Al-Masri

Um Zaher, a mother of four traveling in a horse-drawn carriage, recounted her harrowing experience to CNN.

“I am a resident of Al-Shejaiya neighborhood… We saw death in our own eyes, the floor was exploding from under us. I have only one son and three daughters, I can’t walk, where do we go? No house, no food, no water; they left us with nothing,” Zaher said.

Avichay Adraee, the IDF spokesperson for Arabic media, said via X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday that safe passage was allowed on Salah Eddin Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. Accompanying the announcement, he posted a video showing displaced persons walking past an Israeli tank on the same street.

About 5,000 people fled to southern Gaza by foot during a four-hour window on Monday, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Since Saturday, Israel has opened up a humanitarian corridor for four hours each day for Gazans to move south.

A Palestinian woman carries her passport and ID as she flees Gaza City towards the southern areas walking on a road on November 7, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Thousands of civilians, both Palestinians and Israelis, have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip entered southern Israel in an unprecedented attack triggering a war declared by Israel on Hamas with retaliatory bombings on Gaza. (Photo by /Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

But there are no fully protected zones in Gaza. Eyewitnesses described multiple explosions in central and southern Gaza on Tuesday morning that they said were caused by Israeli airstrikes.

In the central Gazan city of Deir al-Balah, at least two blasts were reported in a camp for displaced people south of the Wadi Gaza waterway. Videos from the city show wounded children being carried away in the arms of adults.

CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment on the blasts but has not received a response.

Amid outcry over the damage inflicted on residential areas, medical facilities and UN-run schools being used as shelters in Gaza, the IDF said Tuesday that it is prepared to strike at Hamas “wherever necessary,” including civilian infrastructure if Israel believes Hamas is using it.

UN relief agency UNRWA has described conditions in its shelters as overcrowded and “inhumane,” warning in a statement on Monday of a looming public health crisis due to damaged water and sanitation infrastructure.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s siege began, according to figures from the Palestinian health authority in Ramallah, drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave. Israel says the goal of the air and ground offensive in Gaza is the complete elimination of Hamas, after the militant group killed 1,400 people in Israel and kidnapped about 240 others in bloody terror attacks on October 7.

Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians and civilian structures including hospitals as shields; Hamas and several hospitals in the enclave have denied that.

Over the past month Israel has attacked more than 14,000 “terrorist targets,” an IDF spokesman said Tuesday, claiming to have eliminated Hamas fighters and destroyed Hamas tunnel shafts and weapons.

As CNN previously reported, US President Joe Biden and his top advisers have warned Israel that it will become increasingly difficult for it to pursue its military goals in Gaza as anger intensifies about the scale of humanitarian suffering there.

Biden told reporters Tuesday that he had asked the Israeli leader, when the two spoke on the phone on Monday, to consider a humanitarian pause.

Yet Netanyahu insists he will not permit a ceasefire until Hamas releases the hundreds of hostages it still holds in Gaza. Shorter pauses in the fighting – what the prime minister described as “tactical little pauses” in an interview with ABC news on Monday – may be permitted for the passage of humanitarian goods or hostages, he said.

The US has also warned Israel over its plans for Gaza after the war ends, following Netanyahu’s comments to ABC that Israel should have “overall security responsibility” in the Palestinian enclave for an “indefinite period.”

“The president still believes that a reoccupation of Gaza by Israeli forces is not good. It’s not good for Israel; not good for the Israeli people,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.

A senior Netanyahu adviser sought to bridge the gap in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, saying that Israel is “not talking about any sort of ongoing occupation of the Gaza strip.”

“We have to distinguish between a security presence and political control,” Mark Regev said. “When this is over and we have defeated Hamas, it is crucial that there won’t be a resurgent terrorist element, a resurgent Hamas. There is no point doing this and just going back to square one.”

CNN’s Tamar Michaels, Niamh Kennedy and Andrew Carey contributed reporting to this story.

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