Poised for Attack, Israel Steps Up Calls for Gaza Residents to Leave ‘Battle Zone’

As Israeli troops massed near the border with Gaza on Saturday, readying tanks and ammunition in dusty staging grounds,fears of an imminent ground invasion created an exodus from northern Gaza amid a dire scarcity in the territory of water and other essentials. The United Nations said that nearly one million Gazans had fled their homes.

In Israel, the military said Saturday it would continue to expand operations to include “an integrated and coordinated attack from the air, sea and land.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Israeli soldiers readying for attack, and video of the Saturday afternoon encounter showed Mr. Netanyahu asking soldiers, “Are you ready for what comes next?”

Across the border, there were scenes of residents fleeing in cars, in horse-drawn carriages and on foot. Evacuees fleeing the anticipated invasion of northern Gaza struggled to find food, water and shelter in the south. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations agency dedicated to Palestinians, said an electricity blackout and a lack of drinking water had become “a matter of life or death.” Displaced families crammed into schools and hospitals while others crowded into the houses of friends and family.

And as the United States, Egypt and Israel discussed terms for a safe passage of U.S. citizens out of the territory, the vast majority of the more than two million residents in Gaza, nearly half of them under 18, were trapped, some sleeping in cars, on chairs and on the ground, even as Israeli airstrikes continued.

The Gazan authorities said Israel was responsible for an explosion Friday that killed at least 70 people traveling in a convoy of vehicles fleeing south. Israel said it was looking into the matter.

Israel stepped up its efforts to persuade hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians to leave northern Gaza. The Israeli military said it had showered the population with warnings. It released a video on Saturday of fluttering pieces of paper dropped from the sky, pamphlets that warned that Gaza City had become a “battle zone.”

“You must evacuate your home immediately and go south of Wadi Gaza,” the pamphlet said, referring to a strip of wetlands that roughly divides the territory in half.

Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, warned of “challenging weeks” ahead as the military operation escalated. The goal, he said, was “the defeat of Hamas and the elimination of its leaders.”

As of Saturday, it had been one week since Hamas, the armed group that controls Gaza, attacked Israel, an operation that appears to have been planned over many months and that targeted specific Israeli military bases and residential neighborhoods along the border with Gaza, as well as an open-air music festival. The attacks killed more than 1,300 people, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history and the worst mass killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.

Palestinians who left the northern Gaza Strip on Friday making their way South, near Khan Younis. Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

The fate of more than 150 hostages that Hamas seized during the incursion remained unclear.

On Friday, the Israeli military conducted limited raids in and out of Gaza, the first time troops had entered the territory since the military began its relentless bombardments.Palestinian militants have fired more than 5,500 rockets into Israel since the fighting erupted, the Israeli military said.

While there was no sign that Gaza residents would be allowed to leave the blockaded territory into neighboring Egypt, the Israeli and Egyptian governments held talks over plansallow American citizens trapped in Gaza to cross into Egypt, a senior State Department official said.

Israel’s top military and political leaders found themselves caught between a deeply wounded nation’s desire for reprisal and calls for restraint, including from some of the country’s closest allies.

The United States has sent weapons to Israel in the past week and President Biden on Friday called Hamas “pure evil.” A day after Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III declared it was a “time for resolve, not revenge,” Mr. Biden delivered a similar message in a call to Mr. Netanyahu, repeating his outrage at Hamas atrocities and affirming “support for all efforts to protect civilians,” according to a White House statement.

A photo of Noa Argamani with her parents, Yakov and Liora, at their home in Be’er Sheva. Ms. Argamani, a university student, is believed to be among those taken captive by Hamas.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, on Saturday continued his frenetic travels across the Middle East, a four-day trip that includes stops in Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Mr. Blinken also called Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, on Saturday to ask for the Chinese government’s help in ensuring that other actors in the region do not get involved in the Israel-Hamas war, a State Department spokesman told reporters.

In Mr. Blinken’s meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, stressed the importance of keeping civilians safe. “It’s important, I think, that we all condemn the targeting of civilians in any form at any time,” the prince said at the start of their meeting, adding that “the priority now has to be to stop further civilian suffering.”

Retaliation by Israel since the Hamas attacks has imposed a heavy toll. Palestinian officials say 2,228 people have been killed in Gaza in the past week and that more than 8,744 have been injured.

Mr. Lazzarini, who leads the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said Saturday that no humanitarian supplies had been allowed into Gaza for the past week.

“I appeal for the siege on humanitarian assistance to be lifted now,” he said in a statement. Mr. Lazzarini said the U.N. had moved its operations to the southern portion of Gaza.

The territory’s water plant and public water networks had stopped working, he said, forcing residents to drink dirty water from wells, increasing risks of waterborne diseases.

Aid convoys from Egypt to Gaza have been held up by disagreements over how and where the convoys should be screened for weapons, according to a senior diplomat familiar with the discussions. Egypt on Saturday was refusing to allow foreigners to leave Gaza until aid was allowed in, the diplomat added.

Gazans collected water on Friday after Israel warned the enclaves residents to flee to the South.Credit…Yousef Masoud for The New York Times

“It’s a struggle for life here,” said a Gaza resident, Zeina Ghanem, speaking on Saturday morning from a training center in southern Gaza run by the United Nations. “There’s no food. There’s no water. There’s no sleep.”

Just over the border, in Israel, the tanks and armored vehicles stirred up pillars of sand with every small maneuver. Israeli flags flew from their turrets.

Shai Levy, 37, a tank driver from Jerusalem, said his mission was clear. “To restore honor to Israel,” said Mr. Levy, who in civilian life is a rabbi and teaches in a seminary.

“The citizens are relying on us to defeat Hamas and remove the threat from Gaza once and for all,” he said.

The war is being waged in what, in global terms, are slivers of land. But the massacres, the missile strikes and the fighting of the last week have reverberated around the world. JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, said Friday that the conflict may have ushered in “the most dangerous time the world has seen in decades,” warning of “far-reaching impacts on energy and food markets, global trade and geopolitical relationships.”

Already, scores of citizens from countries outside the Middle East have been killed in the conflict.

Twenty-nine Americans died in the attacks by Hamas in Israel, U.S. officials said. France’s foreign ministry said Saturday that 17 French citizens were confirmed to have been killed. Twenty-four Thais have been killed and 13 have been wounded, Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday. The dead include citizens of Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Britain, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ireland, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and Turkey.

The United Nations reported last week that 11 of its workers had been killed in Israeli airstrikes. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said five of its members had been killed in the conflict.

The Israeli army said Saturday it was investigating the death of Issam Abdullah, a Reuters journalist who was killed on Friday night amid escalating clashes on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Six other journalists were injured in the incident.

There was a sense of urgency in northern Gaza on Saturday as Israel’s invasion loomed. Mohammed Ziara, a 30-year-old painter, was scrambling to leave and head south with his wife and two children. “There is no time,” he said by phone, his voice trembling.

Additional reporting by Isabel Kershner, Edward Wong, Iyad Abuheweila, Sergey Ponomarev, Aaron Boxerman, Raja Abdulrahim and Euan Ward.

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