Mosques called on residents of the Gaza Strip not to leave their homes on Friday after Israel's military told all civilians, more than 1 million people, to relocate south ahead of an expected ground invasion that risks high casualties.
This may be the pivotal moment in fighting between the Israeli military and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which on Saturday launched the bloodiest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel has already launched the heaviest air strikes on Gaza ever, and speculation has been rising that it will go further in a massive invasion in its bid to wipe out Hamas.
The threats have conjured up images of the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe that refers to the 1948 war of Israel's creation that led to their mass dispossession.
Gaza analyst Talal Okal described the Israeli relocation order as an “attempt to push the Palestinian people of Gaza into Nakba."
'Stay put in your homes, and your places.'
“Like they did in 1948 when they pushed people out of historical Palestine by dropping barrels of explosives on their heads, today Israel is repeating this before the eyes of the world and live cameras,” Okal told Reuters.
As a ground invasion appears imminent, with Israeli tanks amassed near the border, both sides are engaging in psychological warfare.
"Civilians of Gaza City, 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 military said.
"Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City inside tunnels underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians."
Well-Known Gaza Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zard was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, Hamas said. His son was killed a few weeks ago during border protests along the fence.
Eyad Al-Bozom, spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, urged Arabs everywhere and especially in countries that have borders with Israel to support the people of Gaza.
“We tell the people of northern Gaza and from Gaza City, stay put in your homes, and your places. By carrying out massacres against the civilians, the occupation wants to displace us once again from our land,” he said.
“The 1948 displacement will not happen. We will die and we will not leave,” Bozom said at a news conference held in Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
Leaving would be difficult in narrow, densely populated Gaza. The Israeli military has already destroyed roads, making it nearly impossible to escape, in addition to the relentless airstrikes.