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Israeli army warns more than 1 million people to evacuate northern Gaza

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The conflict between Israel and Hamas is taking a dramatic turn. Israel's military has called on everyone in Gaza's north to evacuate south for, quote, "the security of your families." That includes Gaza City, the main population center. The United Nations says this means more than 1 million people are being ordered to abandon their homes. In Israel, the U.S. and other countries are organizing charter flights today for their citizens so they can flee the country. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Israel's international airport outside Tel Aviv. Daniel, before we get to the airport, let's talk about Gaza and what the Israeli military said this morning.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Yeah. Leila, this is a major, major development. The army tweeted in Arabic that everyone in Gaza City should evacuate south, and the United Nations says it was notified by Israel that they're giving a 24-hour window. Of course, that's not a lot of time. The army is now telling reporters it understands this is going to take time to get the population out. But the U.N. says this means 1.1 million people must now abandon their homes. I spoke with Lynn Hastings. She's the U.N.'s top humanitarian coordinator here.

LYNN HASTINGS: We believe that it cannot happen in a safe manner and certainly not in 24 hours.

ESTRIN: It's just a really confusing and chaotic situation now in Gaza. I'm speaking with Palestinians there. Some people are fleeing to the south of Gaza near the Egyptian border. Many people are not. There's a lot of confusion. Is this really genuine, this evacuation order? But many are saying they're torn, that their elderly parents don't want to go. And even if they do go, they don't know where to go. The main hospital in Gaza is in the area that the army has ordered this evacuation. The hospitals are not evacuating, Leila. They're already collapsing. They're without enough fuel for electricity. They told the U.N. they can no longer treat injured people.

FADEL: Wow.

ESTRIN: And, you know, the U.N. is also saying they can't take in 1.1 million people. There are already 300,000 people sheltering throughout Gaza. The U.N. is calling on Israel and Egypt to allow Palestinians to leave Gaza. But the borders remain closed.

FADEL: So people can't escape Gaza. They're trapped. You're describing a dire situation, but people are leaving Israel. What are you seeing at the airport there?

ESTRIN: I'm seeing a lot of international flags. Embassy staff from a number of countries have set up card tables here in the departures hall, getting foreign nationals onto charter flights. Many, but not all, foreign carriers have canceled their flights. All American carriers have canceled. So the U.S. Embassy is organizing about four daily charter flights. Today, there are flights to Athens. We met U.S. citizens Sara Glenn (ph) and her daughter Morgan Levy (ph), taking one of the American charter flights.

SARA GLENN: I just threw a few things in a suitcase, and I felt like leaving Egypt when the slaves in Egypt left in a hurry. That's how I felt.

MORGAN LEVY: I don't even think I brought toothbrushes. I just - medicine, that's about it. We get sirens, and we hear the booms, and it's frightening.

ESTRIN: So the U.S. hopes to have enough planes for about 800 people a day to leave. You sign a pledge. They bill you later. Not an evacuation, but the State Department is telling its U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Israel.

FADEL: What does all this suggest about what Israel is planning to do next?

ESTRIN: Israel might be planning a ground invasion, Leila. Israeli troops are already along the Gaza border, deployed there. And what is Israel's objective? Well, the army spokesman now says we will not live next to a place ruled by a group they are comparing to ISIS. So Israel's messaging is changing. In so many words, it's saying the goal is regime change. After 16 years of Hamas rule, they don't want Hamas rule in Gaza any longer.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin. Thanks, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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