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Israeli ground campaign on Gaza City expected to begin ‘very soon’ as residents flee south

Palestinians struggled Saturday to flee from areas of Gaza targeted by the Israeli military while grappling with a growing water and medical supply shortage ahead of an expected land offensive a week after Hamas's bloody, wide-ranging attack into Israel.

Israeli military continues to warn civilians to leave northern part of territory

A destroyed building in Deir al-Balah, in the southern Gaza Strip. The building was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

Palestinians struggled Saturday to flee from areas of Gaza targeted by the Israeli military while grappling with a growing water and medical supply shortage ahead of an expected land offensive a week after Hamas's bloody, wide-ranging attack into Israel.

Israel renewed calls on social media and in leaflets dropped from the air for some one million residents — nearly half the population in the Gaza Strip — to move south, while Hamas urged people to stay in their homes.

The United Nations and aid groups have said such a rapid exodus would cause untold human suffering, especially for hospitalized patients, older adults and others unable to relocate.

The Israeli military said "hundreds of thousands" of Palestinians had already heeded the warning and headed south. It gave Palestinians a six-hour window that ended Saturday afternoon to travel within Gaza without being harmed along two main routes.

  • Are you a Canadian in Israel or Gaza? We want to hear about what you're experiencing. Send an email to ask@cbc.ca

On Saturday night local time, the Israeli military said in a statement it was preparing a co-ordinated offensive in Gaza using air, ground and naval forces.

In a nationally broadcast address Saturday night, Israel's chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, accused Hamas of trying to use civilians as human shields and issued a new appeal to Gaza residents to move south.

"We are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon," he said, without giving a timetable for the attack against the 40-kilometre-long territory. The military said it was preparing a co-ordinated offensive in Gaza using air, ground and naval forces.

Hamas remained defiant. In a televised speech on Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas official, said that "all the massacres" will not break the Palestinian people.

A man pushes a woman in a wheelchair.

Meanwhile, attacks continued, with Hamas launching rockets into Israel and Israel carrying out strikes in Gaza.

An estimated 35,000 displaced civilians have crammed into the grounds of Gaza City's main hospital, sitting under trees in the empty grounds, as well as inside the building's lobby and corridors, hoping they will be protected from the fighting, medical officials said.

"People think this is the only safe space after their homes were destroyed and they were forced to flee," said Medhat Abbas, a Health Ministry official. "Gaza City is a frightening scene of devastation."

Thousands of people crammed into UN-run schools across Gaza.

"I came here with my children. We slept on the ground. We don't have a mattress or clothes," said Howeida al-Zaaneen, 63, from the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. "I want to go back to my home, even if it is destroyed."

Basic necessities like food, fuel and drinking water also were running low because of a complete Israeli siege.

Mélanie Joly, Canada's foreign affairs minister, said the federal government is still working to get Canadians out after planned crossings at Rafah were cancelled due to unspecified "violence."

She said some 40 families with Canadian ties had been "seeking to secure safe passage" via the crossing.

Rising death toll

Hamas's surprise attacks killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, most of them civilians, Israel's government said. It added that 1,500 Hamas fighters involved in the initial border breach were also killed within Israel's borders.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said in a report on Saturday that at least 2,269 Palestinians have been killed and 9,814 others wounded due to Israeli attacks in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The death toll included 2,215 from Gaza with 8,714 injured. The other 54 dead and 1,100 wounded were from the West Bank, the report added.

Smoke and fire rise near buildings.

Speaking to CBC's The National, Israel Defence Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus responded to concerns about civilian safety, saying the aim is to take out Hamas.

"We are indeed focused on the military objective of our war," Conricus said. "We're not looking to strike civilians."

WATCH | UN warns evacuation risks 'humanitarian consequences':

'It's impossible': A million people have 24 hours to flee northern Gaza | About That

2 days ago

Duration 4:09

Featured VideoIsrael told 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza within 24 hours, ahead of a seemingly imminent ground invasion. The United Nations says the massive evacuation will be 'impossible' without 'devastating humanitarian consequences.' Andrew Chang examines the difficulty of the undertaking.

Troops called up

Israel has called up some 360,000 military reservists and amassed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. A ground assault in densely populated Gaza would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.

WATCH | Israeli military reservists mobilize for a possible Gaza ground invasion:

Israeli reservists prepare for possible ground invasion

2 days ago

Duration 3:26

Featured VideoIsraeli military reservists are mobilizing for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. Those combing the aftermath of last Saturday's attack by Hamas say they found evidence of the militant group's meticulous plans and expect the same for any defence of Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh on Saturday. Both called for Israel to protect civilians in Gaza.

"As Israel pursues its legitimate right to defend its people and to trying to ensure that this never happens again, it is vitally important that all of us look out for for civilians, and we're working together to do exactly that," Blinken said.

Hamas said Israel's airstrikes killed 22 hostages, including foreigners. It did not provide their nationalities. The Israeli military denied the claim. Hamas and other Palestinian militants hope to trade the hostages for thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

A spokesperson for Israel's military said there are 126 confirmed hostages in Gaza.

Israeli tanks and military vehicles gather near the edge of the Gaza Strip in southern Israel.

Hundreds of relatives of the scores of people captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza gathered outside the Israeli Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, demanding the release of their loved ones.

"This is my cry out to the world: Please help bring [back] my family, my wife and three kids," said Avihai Brodtz of Kfar Aza, a kibbutz in southern Israel. Many expressed anger toward the government, saying they still have no information about their relatives.

The U.S. and Israel's other allies have pledged ironclad support for the war on Hamas. The European Union's foreign policy chief, however, said on Saturday that the Israeli military needed to give people more time to leave northern Gaza.

"You cannot move such a volume of people in [a] short period of time," Josep Borrell said.

Iran warns 'situation could spiral out of control'

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging the leaders to allow humanitarian aid to the region and affirming his support for efforts to protect civilians.

The weekend calls in Washington came as Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, intensified diplomatic outreach across the Middle East and beyond to rally an international response to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from expanding.

On Saturday, Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that if Israel's "war crimes & genocide are not halted immediately, the situation could spiral out of control & ricochet far-reaching consequences — the responsibility of which lies with the UN, the Security Council & the states steering the Council toward a dead end."

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