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United Nations team leaders in Gaza on Thursday were informed by their liaison officers in the Israeli military that the entire population north of Wadi Gaza should evacuate to southern Gaza within 24 hours, according to Stephane Dujarric the spokesperson for the UN secretary general.
Israel gave the message to the UN team in Gaza at just before midnight local time on Thursday, the UN said.
"This amounts to approximately 1.1 million people. The same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities — including schools, health centres and clinics," the UN statement said. "The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences."
The UN's statement added: "The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation."
Hamas on Thursday firmly denied its involvement in killing and beheading babies, saying the allegations were "unethically and unprofessionally adopted by western media outlets."
"We firmly deny these allegations as we reject this media bias, and we call on media to abide by journalistic code of ethics," Basim Naim, an official with Hamas information office, said in a video statement.
The official called Hamas' large-scale surprise assault on Israel on Saturday a "defensive operation" and an "internally Palestinian" one.
"The operation targeted only the Israeli military bases and compounds," Naim claimed, despite evidence to the contrary.
"There were clear instructions from the top commanders of Al Qassam Brigades to avoid targeting civilians or killing them," the Hamas official said.
CNN previously reported that days after Hamas launched its large-scale surprise assault on Israel, horrifying details were still emerging.
In Kfar Aza, a kibbutz in southern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told CNN that militants carried out a "massacre" in which women, children, toddlers and elderly were "brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action."
Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Wednesday that babies and toddlers were found with their "heads decapitated" in Kfar Aza in southern Israel after Hamas' attacks in the kibbutz over the weekend. Netanyahu's office on Thursday released "horrifying photos" of two babies whose bodies had been burned beyond recognition and a bloodstained infant's body.
Hamas militants are holding as many as 150 people hostage in locations across Gaza following their raids on southern Israel Saturday, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.
Their presence is complicating Israel's response to the militant group's deadly attack. However, Ambassador Gilad Erdan told CNN Monday that the government's priority is destroying Hamas to restore security for all Israeli citizens.
The Hamas official said in the statement that hostages whom the militant group is holding will be treated "in accordance with our religious values and the rules of international humanitarian law."
However, Naim said, "we are really worried that since the Israeli aggression is everywhere in Gaza, they might be the victims of the Israeli army bombardment just like our people."
The Biden administration is "working very diligently" with Israel and Egypt on safe passage out of Gaza ahead of a possible invasion of the enclave by Israeli forces, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN Thursday.
Israel has amassed more than 300,000 reservists along its southern border with Gaza but has not confirmed whether it is planning for an intensified military operation.
“Whether or not there's a ground incursion — and I’ll let the Israelis speak to their operations — we want to make sure that there's a way for people who live in Gaza who want to get out to do it, and to do it safely and quickly, so we're working on this very, very hard hour by hour,” Kirby told CNN’s Abby Phillip. “We believe that there should be an opportunity for civilians in Gaza to leave now, yesterday, I mean, immediately.”
Gaza’s humanitarian crisis deepened on Thursday with warnings from UN experts that people are at risk of starvation as Israel maintains its siege and bombards targets in response to the Hamas terror attacks that killed more than 1,200 people.
Kirby said the administration believes it’s “important,” for humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.
“These citizens are not Hamas, they are victims of Hamas and their terror as well," Kirby said.
He also acknowledged that Israeli efforts to target Hamas strongholds in Gaza while hostages are still being held in the area have created “a delicate situation.”
“I can tell you that we are in literally hourly contact with our Israeli counterparts about the hostage situation, we've offered expertise and counsel, of course, they know how to do hostage recovery very, very well,” he said. “We're mindful of the delicate nature of this hostage situation, because they're most likely being held somewhere in Gaza. It's a war zone, it's a combat zone that greatly complicates efforts to find them and to and to work on their release.”
The number of Americans who have died after the Hamas terror attack in Israel stands at 27, according to the White House. Some 14 Americans remain missing, Kirby said earlier Thursday..
When Hamas fires rockets at Israel, advanced warning detectors set off alarms in targeted neighborhoods, civilians flee to an extensive network of bomb shelters, and the vaunted Iron Dome system works to intercept projectiles in the air.
But in Gaza, none of those high-tech defenses were available to protect Maisara Baroud, 47, when his apartment building was hit by Israeli airstrikes Monday night. The only thing that saved him and his family: A neighbor yelling from the street.
The neighbor received a call from Israeli military, giving him a heads up that a strike at a nearby residential building was imminent. Still, the neighbor told Baroud and the 15 other family members living in Baroud's building — including nine children — to get out.
The first strike wrecked most of the six buildings on the block, including Baroud's.
"My building was no longer livable — it was a skeleton of a house left," he said. "The doors were destroyed, the building's exterior walls were all gone, the windows shattered."
Still, Baroud and others assumed the worst was over and headed back into the building to salvage their belongings. Minutes later, the neighbor received a follow-up call from the Israeli military that a follow-up bombing was coming, and the families fled again.
A second strike destroyed Baroud's home, reducing his building and his art studio to rubble.
This is the reality for Palestinians living in Gaza without the protection of a robust civil defense infrastructure. With no air raid sirens or bomb shelters, the more than 2 million Palestinians living in the besieged territory — half of whom are children — rely on rare phone calls or text messages from the Israeli military to alert them of imminent strikes.
"In Gaza, we don't have anything ... you have nowhere to go, no bomb shelters, no refuge, you are in the street," Baroud said. "If you're lucky enough to even get an alert to tell you to get out of the house, you leave saying, 'Thank God.'"
The lack of protection serves as a stark contrast to the civil defense systems of Israel, which has faced intense barrages of rocket fire from Hamas in recent days. Israel boasts elaborate and technologically advanced capabilities — ranging from early radar detection to the Iron Dome — meant to protect its civilians in the event of an attack.
In Gaza, the call or text alerts are far from guaranteed and — at most — give residents a few minutes to evacuate. Often, it's just a guessing game.
Supplies have dwindled so low at hospitals in Gaza that it is feared the hospitals will become morgues.
Avril Benoit, executive director of Doctors Without Borders USA, told CNN on Thursday that one hospital used three weeks of supplies within three days due to the influx of patients.
As a result of the siege, she says there is a looming crisis as hospitals are not able to bring in more supplies, fuel, water and staff.
“The situation in the hospitals is absolutely overwhelming,” Benoit said. “I do agree with the analysis and the commentary from the International Committee of the Red Cross that the hospitals will become morgues.”
Benoit said that without electricity critical patients — like babies in incubators, people on dialysis and those on respirators — would be without care.
“What we are hearing from the hospitals that we support is that it is very difficult for patients to even reach the hospitals,” she said. “Everyone is just terrified to move.”
“It’s impossible for staff sometimes, medical staff, to be able to go to work. And if they do go to work they don’t know if they will ever see their families again at night.”
She said hospitals are running short on anesthesia to do surgeries and even four ambulances were destroyed by air strikes as they were transporting patients.
Laor Abramov, a permanent resident of the United States, was killed in the Hamas attack on Israel, his mother, Michal Halev, told CNN via text.
“This was our worst nightmare,” Halev said after learning about her 20-year-old son's death.
Abramov was attending a nature party with his friend — he loved being in nature, his mom said.
His loved ones lost contact with him Saturday afternoon and had not heard from him since. On Monday, his parents shared with CNN a photo of him in a shelter, adding they believed he had been hiding in a border city near Gaza.
Abramov's dream was to be a DJ, like his father, Halev said.
The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday said it will investigate Hamas' use of training camps in Gaza after locations were reported by CNN, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
A CNN investigation analyzing two years of Hamas training videos identified six training camps that the militant organization and its affiliates used to train for Saturday's attacks. Two of the camps were discovered less than 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) from the most fortified and patrolled section of the Gaza-Israel border, the Erez Crossing.
Another camp was found 720 meters — or less than half a mile — from the border.
When originally presented with the reporting, Conricus told CNN that identified camps were "nothing new," that Hamas had many training areas and that they had "struck many training areas over the years in the different rounds of escalation."
Conricus said the IDF could not answer CNN’s questions “since they relate to the complex analysis of intelligence at the same time that we are fighting a war.”
“This topic, together with numerous other issues, will be investigated by the IDF at the end of the war,” he said.
Family members of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas will speak at the United Nations in a special event Friday afternoon, according to a news release from the Israeli Mission.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, will also speak at the event, which will conclude with Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, performed by Israeli signer Noa Kirel, according to the release.
“The event is intended to convey a clear message to the Security Council: the only humanitarian situation the Council must discuss now is the humanitarian situation of our kidnapped citizens who are being held in horrific violation of international law,” Erdan said in a statement.
The event is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. ET Friday and will be live streamed.