Beginning on Friday, Oct. 13, the Israeli military ordered some 1.1 million people living in the northern half of the Gaza Strip to evacuate to the southern part of the besieged and blockaded territory ahead of an expected ground invasion. (Related: Hostages held by Hamas in Gaza will be almost impossible to rescue, warns counterterrorism expert.)
Videos and images coming out of Gaza and spreading on social media on Friday showed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropping leaflets from planes telling Gazans living in the north, including in Gaza City, to head south.
"In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City and make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians," the IDF claimed as Israeli military planes continued to bomb Gazan civilian residences. "Evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields."
The Israeli military initially gave Palestinians living in northern Gaza just 24 hours to evacuate and head to the south of the Strip. But Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich later confirmed that U.S. has pressured Israel to delay its ground offensive to give more time for Palestinians to flee.
"This is in line with previous messaging from the U.S. urging Israel to abide by the laws of armed conflict," reported Heinrich, who added that the U.S. is still working to evacuate citizens from Israel and Palestine.
Over 40 lawmakers have already urged President Joe Biden's administration to put more pressure on Israel to follow international law and establish a humanitarian corridor for the civilians in Gaza.
The United Nations has also pressured Israel to delay its offensive, warning that evacuating almost half of the extremely dense Gaza Strip's population would be a calamitous affair that could take more than a day. The UN is urging Israel to retract its "unprecedented directive."
"The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general's office. "The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded [to avoid] what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation."
Dujarric added that the UN was informed by the IDF that the order applies to all UN staff and to those sheltered in UN-run facilities, including schools, health centers and clinics. The UN agency responsible for handling Palestinian refugees noted that it is sheltering more than 60 percent of the approximately 423,000 people displaced by Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli military analysts advised that the country's "window of opportunity" to launch a ground offensive in Gaza that would be generally seen as successful could be closing, especially if international pressure and concern over the near-certainty of high civilian casualties caused by the operation continue to delay the IDF.
"I think the green light is only open for about two weeks, so Israel should hurry up," said military analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem, an former captain in the IDF's intelligence division who is suggesting that international pressure for a ceasefire is increasing rapidly.
Israeli officials who spoke with Politico noted that the IDF gave an evacuation order to save as many Palestinian lives as possible ahead of the ground operation, but this short window of time for the evacuation is supposedly necessary to prevent Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups operating in Gaza from having enough time to prepare defenses against the Israeli offensive.
It is unclear whether most or many of the Gazans living in the northern half of the Strip will be able to do so ahead of the ground invasion. The longer Israel is forced to delay, the more likely it is that more Palestinian civilians are able to flee south.
The Israeli government has confirmed that it has already received detailed plans from IDF leaders on how an invasion of the Gaza Strip would be conducted. But politicking within the Israeli government may have also played a role in delaying the offensive, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a new government and security and war cabinet to include some members of the opposition on Oct. 11.
The potential participation of Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon is also complicating plans, and some IDF elements are being diverted to Israel's northern border with Lebanon.
"The army expects the politicians to make a decision more quickly," said Ben-Menachem.
So far, the IDF has only been able to conduct limited ground incursions into Gaza with tanks and infantry units, with the military saying these raids are meant to gather intelligence that may help locate hostages currently held by Hamas.
Watch this video of pro-Israel demonstrators in New York City calling for genocide against all Palestinians.