Thousands flee north Gaza after Israel evacuation warning.

Some residents fear a start of another permanent displacement. Gaza authorities said at least 70 people were killed when Israeli airstrikes hit some vehicles heading south.

Panic and chaos gripped the northern Gaza Strip Friday as thousands of people fled south in vehicles piled high with blankets and mattresses along two main roads after the Israeli military ordered a mass evacuation of half of the besieged coastal strip. 

But rather than finding safety from a feared ground invasion, at least 70 people were killed along the way when Israeli airstrikes hit some of the vehicles fleeing south, according to the Gazan authorities.

Some Gaza residents said they feared this could be the start of another permanent mass displacement like the one in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes in present-day Israel during the war surrounding the nation’s establishment. 

But it was too soon to tell.“As I’m packing my things, I’m wondering: Is this really another nakba?” said Dr. Arwa el-Rayes, a 56-year-old doctor, speaking in the last moments before she left her childhood home in Gaza City in the north. 

The nakba, which means catastrophe, is how Palestinians refer to the 1948 displacement.“I’m taking my house key and thinking, will I ever return to my home?” she added.

The majority of Gaza’s population — some 1.7 million of the 2.1 million residents — are among those who were forced to leave their homes in 1948, or are their descendants. In 1948, Palestinians were told they would be allowed to return after a few days or weeks, and they took just a few belongings and the keys to their front doors. But they were never allowed back.

The Israeli military warned the more than one million residents of northern Gaza to move to the south of the densely populated enclave for their own safety, even as the Gazan authorities said airstrikes on the south continued. Those who evacuated would be allowed to return home “only when another announcement permitting it is made,” the Israeli military said. But Israel has not suggested they will never be allowed to go back.Gaza has been under intense airstrikes for nearly a week, an onslaught unleashed after Hamas, the group that controls the territory, launched a surprise attack on southern Israel over the weekend that killed more than 1,300 people, including civilians and soldiers.

Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 1,900 people in Gaza since then, according to the territory’s health ministry, a toll that has been rapidly rising each day. 

The Israeli assault persisted even as people were trying to evacuate to safer ground.The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that airstrikes had killed at least 70 Palestinians and injured 200 who were trying to flee the north by car on a main highway — one of the few routes to an area farther south. 

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

Video of the aftermath of one of the strikes, which hit an open-bed truck, showed bloodied and wounded people among suitcases.

Some of those killed as they were trying to flee were left in the road, as no one dared to stop and pick them up, the Gazan authorities said.

Some residents who wanted to leave with their families didn’t have vehicles, and were setting out either on foot, carrying with them what they could, or piling onto others’ trucks. Two men made their way south on a donkey-drawn cart and flashed peace signs as they went.

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