Israel has announced that it will cut off all internet services in the Gaza Strip from Saturday, as well as giving a hospital in the besieged enclave just hours to evacuate its staff and patients before launching a ground invasion.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) notified the UN on Friday night that Palestinians living north of Wadi Gaza should evacuate to the southern part of the Gaza Strip in the next 24 hours, according to UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric and another source with direct knowledge.
The evacuation order affects about 1.1 million Palestinians, who have been living under a brutal siege and bombardment by Israel for more than a week. Many of them have nowhere to go, as the southern Gaza Strip is also under attack and has limited facilities and resources.
The Israeli military also issued an ultimatum to Al Awda Hospital in Gaza City, the main hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, to evacuate its medical staff and patients, including seriously injured people, within two hours on Friday afternoon. The hospital is run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international NGO also known as Doctors Without Borders.
MSF said in a statement that it was “very saddened” and “horrified” by the Israeli demand, which it called “an attack on medical care and on humanity”. It said that it was impossible to safely transport the wounded from the hospital, which was already struggling with high numbers of dead and injured.
“We unequivocally condemn this action, the continued indiscriminate bloodshed and attacks on health care in Gaza. We are trying to protect our staff and patients,” MSF General Director Meinie Nicolai said.
MSF later said that the Israeli forces had postponed the evacuation order until 6 a.m. on Saturday, giving the hospital one night to make arrangements. However, it said that the situation remained “extremely dangerous” and “complicated”.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Minister of Communications, Shlomo Karhi, said on Friday that all internet services in Gaza would be cut off from Saturday, making it extremely difficult to document the unfolding situation in the Israel-Hamas war.
“Israel set to cut off internet connectivity in Gaza from tomorrow,” The Spectator Index tweeted.
Karhi said that the move was aimed at preventing Hamas from using the internet to communicate and coordinate its attacks on Israel. He also accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and preventing them from leaving.
However, many Palestinians and human rights activists denounced the internet shutdown as a violation of freedom of expression and access to information. They said that it would also hamper humanitarian aid and relief efforts in Gaza.
“This is a blatant attempt by Israel to silence the voices of the Palestinian people and hide the atrocities it is committing in Gaza,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine.
Israel launched its offensive on October 7, following a surprise attack by Hamas that killed 1,300 Israelis and took at least 100 Israelis hostage. Israel said it was targeting Hamas militants and infrastructure, but its air strikes have also hit residential buildings, schools, hospitals and media offices.
According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least 1,900 Palestinians have been killed and 7,696 wounded since Israel launched its offensive. Among the Palestinian casualties, 2,000 are children and 1,400 are women.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, previous attempts to broker a truce have failed, as both sides have rejected each other’s conditions.