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Visual analysis shows 60% of Gaza now under evacuation orders

Written by on January 6, 2024

Visual analysis shows 60% of Gaza now under evacuation orders
ABC News/Plant

(NEW YORK) — Beginning in December, after the end of the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expanded its ground operation in Gaza — both in the south, and more recently, in the central region of the territory.

This has also resulted in more evacuation warnings for civilians in areas of combat, and with the addition of warnings for cities in the central region, 60% of Gaza’s territory is now under evacuation orders, according to an analysis by ABC News.

By cross-referencing the IDF evacuation warnings, sent on social media as well as leaflets dropped on Gaza, with the IDF’s map dividing Gaza into blocks, ABC News has been able to create an overall picture of every evacuation warning the IDF has announced.

Up to 1.9 million people — or more than 85% of the population — have been displaced throughout the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, according to a Jan. 2 report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Dr. Elizabeth Ferris, the director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, said the “unprecedented” scale of displacement in Gaza creates a range of serious consequences.

Displacement causes poverty, Ferris said, as people lose their assets, homes and livelihoods. Mental health and physical safety are put in jeopardy, she said.

Multiple displacements compound harm, she said, adding that children are particularly traumatized and re-traumatized by repeated displacements.

“It’s much more difficult to bounce back,” Ferris said. “There’s a limit to resilience in terms of being able to cope with these kinds of situations.”

When it comes to evacuation orders, Ferris said it’s important that messages are widely distributed in languages people understand and through means they can access.

The IDF issues evacuation orders in Arabic through multiple avenues, including the leaflets dropped on Gaza and updates on social media.

But a UN expert said the IDF’s evacuation orders have been “inaccurate, self-contradictory” and too dependent on “electricity and telecommunications networks” that Gazans may not have access to.

When the temporary truce ended on Dec. 1, the IDF introduced a map of Gaza divided into small, numbered blocks. Israel announced the map system as a way to direct specific evacuations of civilians; however, experts say the reality on the ground, like difficulties accessing internet service and unfamiliarity with the new map system, means people aren’t always sure what to do.

ABC News spoke with people as they traveled toward the southern city of Rafah. They described traveling from one place to another as they tried to heed evacuation orders in Gaza.

Muhammad Alyan said he and his family fled northern Gaza City and walked to Khan Yunis in the south. After arriving in Khan Yunis, leaflets fell from the sky instructing them to move again.

“Now we are heading to Rafah. Where do we go? There was nowhere left to go,” Alyan told ABC News.

Additionally, when the IDF announces evacuation zones, the map graphics that accompany its announcements don’t always match the text announcement of what blocks are meant to evacuate, or even the location of the blocks, according to an analysis by ABC News.

On Dec. 2, a map with highlighted areas of Khan Younis said to evacuate. However, the text of the announcement also warned of several blocks encompassing two towns north of the city to leave as well.

The IDF told ABC News it has asked for temporary evacuations to safe areas “in order to minimize the risk posed by remaining in areas of intense hostilities.” It said the warnings are delivered in multiple ways including “a dedicated website in Arabic, millions of pre-recorded phone calls and tens of thousands of live phone calls, and millions of leaflets.”

“The IDF will act against Hamas wherever it operates, with full commitment to international law, while distinguishing between terrorists and civilians, and taking all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians,” the IDF statement said.

Despite the confusion residents say they feel about evacuation orders and the block maps, they are generally continuing to evacuate areas where the IDF announces ground operations.

This has exponentially grown the populations taking refuge in the few remaining safe areas where millions are sheltering in schools and makeshift tent camps.

Juliette Touma, director of communications for UNRWA, said about 1 million people are now living in Rafah alone, a city which prewar had a population of about 150,000 people.

“Rafah historically is one of the poorest areas in the Gaza Strip. It does not have the civilian infrastructure that can support such a huge influx of displaced people,” Touma said.

Even known shelters, which are where the IDF directs people in their evacuation warnings, are no longer an option for displaced people, Touma said.

“Our own shelters in the area are just massively overcrowded, we cannot take more people anymore. And so, what happened is that people started living anywhere they could,” Touma said.

The IDF’s last two evacuation notices, for Bureij and Nuseirat camps, have directed people to shelter in the central city of Deir Al Balah. Satellite imagery shows new camps are forming around tents set up in empty fields and lots, indicating existing shelters and tent camps are at capacity in Deir Al Balah.

As IDF ground operations continue, experts say even more people will flood the few remaining areas free of ground combat, but the space and resources to accommodate them are running out.

Hamas launched its surprise terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office. Since Israel launched its counter-offensive, more than 22,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

ABC News’ Samy Zyara and Luis Yordan contributed to this story.

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