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Israel tells northern Gaza to evacuate, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a glimpse today of life for civilians in what Israel's defense minister has called a complete siege of Gaza.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Israel is responding to an attack out of Gaza by Hamas, which killed 1,300 people. The bombardment by air and sea has killed more than 2,700 Palestinians. And for those who survive, food and water are running out, as Israel has shut off the supply of both.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aya Batrawy has been talking with people in Gaza. Welcome back to the program.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

BATRAWY: It has been sheer terror and a struggle to survive. Hundreds of thousands of people in northern Gaza left their home over the weekend following Israeli evacuation notices. They dropped leaflets from the sky telling people to leave their homes. And so many people were walking by foot. Children were walking for miles, heading south. Moms were carrying their babies. And there's no guarantees of safety to the areas in the south that they have evacuated to.

Israel continues to bomb areas across the Gaza Strip, and there have been reports of entire families being killed in the south over the weekend. And the Palestinian minister of health says a third of all those killed since the beginning of this war have been children. And there are also people who simply cannot leave and evacuate south, even if they wanted to. Doctors and nurses are still treating a stream of wounded from continuous Israeli airstrikes, including in Gaza City's biggest hospital, Al-Shifa. We're also talking about - more than 9,000 people have been wounded since the start of this war. Many are on life support. There are people who are disabled, elderly.

So I reached a woman named Nancy in Gaza City. She's stuck there with a baby and no way to get out. Let's take a listen to what she told me.

NANCY: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: So she's saying she has no transportation, no cars able to take her out. The neighborhood is full of people that haven't left either. She's running low on baby formula and diapers and water. And that is the other major crisis unfolding now for Gaza. People are drinking seawater and contaminated water, and that is because Gaza has been under a complete Israeli siege for an entire week now, with nothing coming in, no fuel, food or water. And the main power plant has shut down, and hospitals are on their last days of fuel for generators.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking through everything you've told me, Aya. You're talking about the hardship imposed by an evacuation order. In theory, the evacuation order is to protect civilians so that Israel's military can do what it wants without killing civilians. But people are saying they're being harmed by that, being harmed by the blockade. So where does the United States fit into all this? Doesn't the U.S. say it supports Israel but does not want civilians harmed?

BATRAWY: Well, we have been hearing for the past two days that there are efforts for Gaza's border crossing with Egypt to open, and that would allow some 500 to 600 Americans, Palestinian Americans and other foreigners to leave. But Egypt is insisting if that border crossing opens, aid has to get in from Egypt's side. But we've just heard this morning from Israel's prime minister office saying no deal for a cease-fire in the south of Gaza has been reached, so no foreigners coming out and no aid going in.

Now, Egypt has a huge convoy of aid trucks waiting there at the border ready to bring in fuel, food, ambulances, surgical kits, medications and chlorine tablets for water. Doctors Without Borders says, currently, there are no painkillers in hospitals, so you have people and children screaming and pain from full-body burns, severed limbs, shattered bones. This is the situation now in Gaza.

INSKEEP: And Israel, of course, is by no means done with its operation. What is it planning next?

BATRAWY: Well, we know there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists at the border, and there's talk of an imminent ground invasion into Gaza. And after all of what has unfolded, Israel says it is still only the beginning of its response to the Hamas attacks. The U.S. has made clear it stands by Israel. It is not calling for calm or urging restraint at this time. But Israel has said repeatedly it will destroy Hamas as an organization, disarm it, make it unable to govern. But how that happens is unclear.

INSKEEP: Aya, thanks so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.