Across Gaza, shellshocked residents awoke to the ninth day of a punishing war between Israel and Hamas militants, after the group’s gunmen killed at least 1,300 people in a brutal assault on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7.
On Sunday, there were scant supplies of food, fuel, water and electricity in Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, and phone and internet connections were intermittent as critical infrastructure collapsed.
“What should I do? Nowhere is safe,” Warda, a mother of three, said in a phone interview from Gaza City. She was frantically packing a bag so she could flee south, she said, perhaps by foot, because she had no car.
“I don’t have any news. No electricity or water,” Warda, 39, said. “Anywhere I go, we could die.”
Israel on Friday urged more than a million residents to evacuate northern Gaza, including Gaza City, where Israeli strikes have wiped out families and laid waste to its once-bustling commercial center. The warning prompted a chaotic exodus along treacherous routes to the south, where at least one convoy was bombed on Friday, according to video footage verified by The Washington Post.
The Israeli military on Sunday said it would “not carry out any operations” along a stretch of the main road that runs the length of the Gaza Strip. “Your safety and that of your families matters,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a message shared on X, formerly Twitter.
An estimated 1 million residents are now displaced inside Gaza, according to UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Residents on Sunday said they did not trust Israel’s assurances that it would refrain from military operations on the road out of Gaza City.
At least 2,600 people have been killed in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Sunday, and more than 9,600 injured.
The ministry also issued an “urgent appeal” for countries to send medical delegations to help treat the wounded. It said medical workers in Gaza have also been killed, injured and displaced.
At Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals, doctors said they were moving patients to the floor to make room for the newly injured, while bodies piled up outside. At al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the territory’s largest medical complex, about 30,000 people crowded into the buildings and surrounding parking lot, in the hopes it would keep them safe.
“If we decide to evacuate our homes, our neighborhoods, we will have nowhere to go,” said Mohammad Shaqra, 29. “Everything is being targeted.”
Shaqra, an employee at the Gaza City municipality, said that about 100 people were sheltering in his family’s apartment building in the northern part of the city.
Expecting the worst, he said: “I don’t have any children and I may never get to the next stage of my life.”
According to several residents, some families were debating whether to stay all in one room, so that they would die together in the event of a strike, or to spread the children out in different homes and in convoys heading south. That way, they said, at least some members of the family might survive.
“There is death, horror and destruction everywhere,” Warda said. “This is a war of annihilation.”
Israel has vowed to “destroy” Hamas and its senior leadership in Gaza, where it said it was preparing for a “wide range” of offensive plans, including a possible ground invasion. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 — and the enclave is one of two territories, including the occupied West Bank, that Palestinians envisioned as part of a future state.
On Sunday, the fate of Gaza and its population was unclear.
Humanitarian aid piled up in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza, and residents flocked to the Rafah crossing in the south. But the border remained closed, despite reports that it would open to allow the evacuation of foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens.
U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that Egypt had agreed to allow U.S. citizens out, but it “was actually Hamas taking steps to try to stop that from happening.”
But for Palestinians, there was no hope for escape.
If foreign nationals are allowed to evacuate, “it will be even worse once they are gone,” said Ahmed, 42.
Ahmed, who declined to give his full name for security reasons, fled his home near the border in southeastern Gaza, along with his wife and three children. First, they moved to the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood but had to flee again as the strikes intensified. Now they’re staying at a UNRWA storage facility in Rafah city.
“I just want to go someplace where my kids are safe,” he said.
Some families were killed in the homes or sites where they sought shelter.
In Khan Younis on Friday, an Israeli strike hit the home where members of the al-Ola family had fled. It killed at least 10 members of the family, including Toqa Abu al-Ola, who was eight months pregnant. Ola’s 3-year-old son, Issam, was the only survivor, according to his uncle, Issam Abu Youssef.
On Sunday, the toddler lay unconscious with internal bleeding in the intensive care unit at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.
“I swear to you: death is easier than what we are experiencing,” said Haneen Abu Youssef, the child’s aunt. “When you see a child like this, who lost his mother, father, uncle, grandmother and grandfather, the whole family, uncles and aunts. Nothing is left.”
Berger reported from Jerusalem and Dadouch reported from Beirut.