Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, called that message a threat to collectively punish Palestinian civilians who were unwilling or unable to move south. She said it could possibly amount to ethnic cleansing.
In response to questions from The New York Times, the Israeli military said in a statement that it “treats civilians as such, and does not target them.” A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said there was no basis for the suggestion that its evacuation warnings could amount to ethnic cleansing.
Despite Israel’s warnings to leave, many civilians in northern Gaza said that doing so was impossible because of the cost, and that moving south was no guarantee of safety.
Amani Abu Odeh, who lives in the town of Jabalia in Gaza’s north, said that the risk of Israeli airstrikes on the road meant that drivers were now charging $200 to $300 to take a family south. Before the war, the same trip cost about $3 a person, she said.
“We can’t even afford to eat,” Ms. Abu Odeh said. “We don’t have the money to leave.” Instead, she and other members of her extended family have hunkered down together in one home.
Yasser Shaban, 57, a civil servant in Gaza City, said he was not moving south “mainly because I know no one there; where am I to go?”
“We will end up in the streets,” Mr. Shaban said.
He said his cousin had moved south with members of his family after airstrikes on Gaza City. But a week ago, he said, an Israeli airstrike hit the building where they were sheltering in the southern city of Khan Younis, killing the cousin’s wife and two daughters.
“I heard of the new leaflets saying they will consider us members of Hamas if we don’t evacuate,” Mr. Shaban said. “But I simply can’t go south.”