Countries urged Israel on Friday to hold off on plans for an all-out assault on northern Gaza, where more than a million civilians largely defied its order to evacuate before it goes after Hamas.
Hamas, which controls the densely populated Palestinian territory, vowed to fight until the last drop of blood and told residents to stay put after Israel said they should move to the south within 24 hours.
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jordan that the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza would constitute a repeat of 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from what is now Israel.
Most Gazans are the descendants of such refugees. Abbas called for aid to be allowed into Gaza immediately. Israel has said it will not lift its blockade until scores of hostages captured by Hamas are set free.
Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed providing safe zones in Gaza “where civilians could relocate to be safe from Israel’s legitimate security operations,” a US State Department official told reporters.
The United Nations said it had been informed of the order shortly before midnight but as thousands of people streamed southwards in cars and on foot, the Israeli army admitted that the evacuation would "take time".
Herewith are the main reactions so far:
-- United States --
US President Joe Biden said that addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was a "priority." "We can't lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with attacks, and they're suffering as a result as well," Biden said during a speech in Philadelphia.
Earlier the White House said the evacuation demand was a "tall order". "It's already a combat zone. So I don't think anybody's underestimating the challenge here of effecting that evacuation," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was working with Israel "on the need to establish some safe areas where civilians could relocate, be safe from Israel's legitimate security operations," a US official said.
-- United Nations
-- UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for the protection of basic human rights and stressed that "even wars have rules", ahead of a Security Council meeting on the volatile situation. He said the situation in Gaza had reached "a dangerous new low" and called for immediate humanitarian access through Gaza to get "fuel, food and water to everyone in need." He said the blockaded enclave's health system was on the brink of collapse.
The UN described such a population transfer in so short a timescale as "impossible" and urged Israel to rescind the order. It announced it was relocating its agency for Palestinian refugees and foreign staff to southern Gaza.
-- Red Cross --
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Gazans had "nowhere safe to go" and it was "impossible" for them to know which areas "will next face attack". With a military siege in place, humanitarian organizations "will not be able to assist such a massive displacement of people in Gaza". -- Turkey -- Turkey called the evacuation demand "unacceptable".
"Forcing the 2.5 million residents of Gaza, who have been subject to indiscriminate air strikes for days and deprived of electricity, water, and food, to migrate in an extremely limited area is a flagrant violation of international law and is inhumane," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
-- World Health Organisation --
The WHO joined other UN bodies in calling for Israel to rescind the evacuation order. "A mass evacuation would be disastrous -- for patients, health workers, and other civilians left behind or caught in the mass movement," it said.
Palestinian officials told the WHO that moving vulnerable hospital patients to the southern Gaza Strip was "impossible". Hospitals in the south of Gaza were already "overflowing", WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva. "With ongoing airstrikes, civilians have no safe place left to go".
-- Arab League --
The Cairo-based Arab League condemned a "forced transfer" that constitutes "a crime". Leader Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Israel of carrying out "an atrocious act of revenge... punishing helpless civilians in Gaza," rather than a "planned or studied military operation" on uprooting Hamas militants over their deadly attacks on Israeli soil.
-- Egypt --
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Gazans to "stay steadfast and remain on their land", amid calls for Cairo to allow safe passage through its Rafah crossing for civilians stuck in Gaza. US officials said they were in talks with Egypt to open the Rafah crossing to foreign nationals who want to flee.
-- Russia --
Russia's President Vladimir Putin compared Israel's siege of Gaza to the Nazis' World War II blockade of Leningrad. "Various scenarios are emerging, including the possibility of military and non-military measures being taken against the Gaza Strip comparable to the siege of Leningrad during World War II," Putin told journalists in Kyrgyzstan. "We understand what that entails. In my opinion, this is unacceptable. More than two million people live there," he added.
-- Saudi Arabia
-- Saudi Arabia denounced the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and attacks on "defenseless civilians." Riyadh "affirms its categorical rejection of calls for the forced displacement of the Palestinian people from Gaza, and its condemnation of the continued targeting of defenseless civilians there," the foreign ministry said in a statement. -- Organization of Islamic Cooperation -- The Organization of Islamic Cooperation accused Israel of seeking to "forcibly displace the Palestinian people" and seeking to shift "the humanitarian crisis... to neighboring countries".