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Gazans flee ahead of ground invasion


It's been a week since Hamas militants breached several towns in southern Israel, killing at least 1,300 people and taking some 150 people hostage. Ever since, Israel has been unleashing an intense military operation in Gaza, where Hamas holds control. Israeli forces have conducted thousands of airstrikes and imposed a full siege on Gaza, barring food, fuel, water and electricity from entering. And now Israel is apparently preparing a ground invasion.

In Gaza already, more than 2,200 people have been killed, thousands wounded, and the hospitals are on the brink of collapse. Compounding this humanitarian crisis was a warning yesterday by the Israeli military to civilians - leave the north and head south. For more on all of this, we are joined by Morning Edition host Leila Fadel, who's in Jerusalem. And, Leila, let's start with this massive evacuation. What are you hearing?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: So like you said, Scott, the Israeli military dropped fliers throughout the north yesterday telling people to leave. So a lot of people scrambled to get out with what they could take. We're talking about 1.1 million people ordered to cross an active war zone. And even those who heeded the warning of the Israeli military and used safe routes didn't all stay safe. A convoy of people fleeing was struck, and dozens of people were killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. I also spoke to a man, Ahbed Ajrami (ph), who said his cousin fled and then was killed in the home where he evacuated to.

DETROW: What happened?

FADEL: Well, first his cousin, Na'ez (ph), got this call from the Israeli army.



NA'EZ: (Speaking Arabic).


NA'EZ: (Speaking Arabic).

FADEL: So what you're hearing there is the person from the Israeli army saying in Arabic, you've got to go south for your safety. Tell your neighbors. Take your families. Go. He asks about a specific town, Deir el-Balah, and the man on the phone says, yeah, that's safe. You can go there. And so he does. And then when he gets there, his cousin Ahbed Ajrami (ph) tells me what happened.

AHBED AJRAMI: Last night, the little villa was bombed, and he gets killed along with his grandson. And several people were injured, including his wife, and I just get a report that nine of his family were killed.


FADEL: Yeah.

DETROW: I mean, this is somebody who tries to flee, is killed. Where can people go to find safety at this moment?

FADEL: I mean, Palestinians say in Gaza there's nowhere safe. In fact, some are just not leaving the north at all because they say there's no guarantee that the south will be safer. They also say they don't want to leave with no guarantee they can return to their land. And, Scott, I should remind you, Palestinian civilians in Gaza are trapped inside. They cannot get out. The enclave is not like a regular country. It doesn't control its airspace, its borders or its sea. And right now, the borders are sealed by Egypt and Israel. And there's, of course, no airport.

The U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced people, Paula Gaviria Bentacur, condemned Israel's order for people to leave the north in the - in the south in the strongest terms. She said forcible population transfers constitute a crime against humanity.

DETROW: And then lastly, what about the 400 to 600 Americans trapped there?

FADEL: Yeah. I've been tracking one American family. The State Department emailed saying there might be an opportunity for Americans to leave through the Rafah crossing in Gaza and into Egypt today. Abudo Kayo (ph), who lives in Massachusetts, got there at 10:30 this morning with his wife and 1-1/2-year-old, waited for hours, sent us this voice memo at 4:27 p.m. after he'd called the State Department and the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Jerusalem.

ABUDO KAYO: It doesn't seem like we get actual information on what to do next, so I don't know how we're going to be able to fall asleep tonight.

FADEL: The crossing never opened, and they were unable to get out.

DETROW: That is NPR's Leila Fadel reporting from Jerusalem. Thanks so much for your reporting, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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