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Israel gives civilians several hours a day to flee fighting in north Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are fleeing Gaza City on foot.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News yesterday that Israel is granting civilians a route to escape each day from northern Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The fighting continues against the Hamas terrorists but in specific locations for a given period of a few hours. We want to facilitate the safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting. And we're doing that.

FADEL: This morning, Gaza's health ministry says Israel struck Gaza's main hospital. Israel says a Hamas command center is located beneath the hospital, a claim that the militant group denies.

MARTÍNEZ: We're joined by NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, tell us about how people are trying to get out of Gaza City.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Yeah, Israel has been doing this every day since Sunday. They've announced a few hours for people to flee from northern Gaza. This is the main population center in Gaza City. The road that they are fleeing on is so torn up that it's hard to drive on. And so people are fleeing on foot. This began in smaller numbers earlier this week, but it's ramped up just in the last couple of days. And more than 100,000 people are estimated to have fled so far. And our producer Anas Baba watched the masses walking in the sun.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: I could hear an intensive (ph) clashes while the people are evacuating. They're just, like, holding white flags between their hands. Every one of them is telling me the same thing. My arms is killing me because I was raising them in the air for the past one hour.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BABA: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: She couldn't find her 10-year-old daughter, Dana Abuzenada (ph). She was missing. And other scenes of just pandemonium as people were walking along this route - others saying they were walking past Israeli tanks on both sides of the road and walking past dead bodies strewn in the road, elderly people saying they were panting from exhaustion. People were thirsty. And people saying they didn't know where they were going next, but they were describing the conditions that they were fleeing in north Gaza - no water, no food, no internet and just a worsening humanitarian situation there.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's Israel's plan on the ground there in Gaza?

ESTRIN: There are reports that Israeli tanks are close to Shifa Hospital. That's Gaza's main hospital. As Leila said earlier, Gaza health officials have said that today there was a direct strike on the maternity ward. We are still gathering information. Israel's military hasn't commented on that yet. But there have been these debates in Israel whether this hospital can become a legitimate military target. On the one hand, you have thousands of Palestinians sheltering in the hospital. You have surgeons performing surgeries on the war-wounded. On the other hand, Israel claims that Hamas uses this hospital to take cover. It claims that Hamas has built underground command center, tunnels under the hospital.

Now, as for what is next in Israel's military strategy, I attended a briefing with Minister Benny Gantz. He is on Israel's war cabinet. He says Israel does not know how long the campaign in Gaza will last. He says Israel doesn't even know who will rule Gaza after the war but that Israel must maintain security superiority there in the long term.

MARTÍNEZ: What about people in Israel? What's the mood there? How are they feeling?

ESTRIN: Well, besides the intense anxiety, you know, with the rocket fire, although somewhat lessened now, continuing, Israeli cities and towns are arming themselves. They say that's the lesson of the October 7 attacks. They're forming security squads. The U.S. is sending weapons for those squads. And human rights groups in Israel are warning about a trend of crackdowns, Israeli police crackdowns on anti-war protests. There were some Arab community leaders planning a demonstration who were detained and released.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "FIRST LIGHT") 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.