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Many Gaza residents remain trapped in the north after short evacuation window

People search through buildings that were destroyed during Israeli air raids in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday in Khan Younis, Gaza.
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People search through buildings that were destroyed during Israeli air raids in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday in Khan Younis, Gaza.

Updated November 4, 2023 at 10:19 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel's military said Hamas attacked a safe passageway from northern Gaza during a three-hour evacuation window it had set on Saturday.

"The Hamas terrorist organization exploited the humanitarian window that the IDF provided to residents of the Gaza Strip to move southwards, and the terrorists fired mortars and anti-tank missiles at IDF troops who arrived and operated to open the route," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

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Earlier Saturday, the military announced there would be a brief three-hour window (starting 1 p.m. local time until 4 p.m.) for people trapped in northern Gaza to travel on the road to southern Gaza safely.

The Israeli military said it would "avoid hitting" a main road heading south, but emphasized that this was in no way a cease-fire.

Hundreds of thousands of people still stuck in northern Gaza had three hours to flee south. But it appears few people, if any, were able to leave.

By the end of this window, an NPR reporter in Gaza had not encountered anyone able to use this so-called safe passage. Several drivers there shared that it was impossible for anyone to make it through on the damaged street.

One driver told NPR that he and his brother were heading south and found that the roads were not passable, that "there are holes in the ground, and we saw body parts strewn all over Salah al-Din," the main highway in the Gaza Strip.

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Palestinians look at the destruction after Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis, Nov. 4, 2023.
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Palestinians look at the destruction after Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Saturday.

He said they "were afraid to keep going because we heard shooting beyond the valley so we came back." This person asked NPR not to use their name out of concern for their safety.

Salama Maarouf, Hamas' head of government media office, called the passageway "a big lie in order to target citizens."

He continued, "The Salah al-Din Road is not valid for cars to pass due to its bulldozing and the stationing of occupation vehicles."

The United Nations estimates that there could be as many 300,000 internally displaced people still stuck in northern Gaza, including Gaza City — an area Israeli forces have surrounded as part of their ground operation.

It's been about a week since Israeli troops pushed into Gaza through a ground offensive and remained in the Strip. This military effort has mostly been focused in the north and has effectively cut the strip in half, preventing aid from getting in or civilians from getting out.

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The Palestinian death toll from Israel's response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack is now at 9,488 people in Gaza — nearly 70% of them being women and children, according to the Ministry of Health.

If any civilians were able to flee to the south of Gaza during the window, they could likely move no further than that once they arrived.

Officials in Gaza also closed the one available border crossing from Gaza into Egypt on Saturday. They said foreign passport holders will not be allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt unless patients from the hospitals in Gaza City and northern Gaza are permitted to get to the crossing.

The crossing has been opened the past three days for Palestinians with foreign nationalities, or Palestinians with connections to foreign countries and foreign employers.

The list of people approved to leave Gaza on Saturday — in what would have been the fourth day for the border to be open — included more Americans.

Blinken continues talks with Middle East leaders

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, left, and Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrive to attend a press conference in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, left, and Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrive to attend a press conference in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued to negotiate with the heads of governments of several Middle Eastern countries this weekend following his Friday visit to Israel.

During his talks with Israeli officials, he pushed the U.S. line that Israel should agree to a "humanitarian pause" to allow more aid to enter Gaza and for hostages to be released. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea. The U.S. has not called for a full cease-fire.

In Jordan on Saturday, Blinken met with leaders and senior officials from Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon. The Arab leaders urged an immediate cease-fire. Blinken said a cease-fire at this point would be counterproductive and allow Hamas to continue its deadly attacks in the future.

Blinken also now plans a stop in Turkey on Monday just as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly criticized Israel and Netanyahu this weekend.

Erdogan split with other NATO nations and said Turkey will not support any resolution to the Israel-Hamas war that includes "gradually erasing Palestinians."

Erdogan has said he supports a two-state solution and has called for a cease-fire.

NPR's Anas Baba contributed reporting from Gaza. Jaclyn Diaz, Lauren Migaki and Elissa Nadworny reported from Tel Aviv. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz
Lauren Migaki
Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.
Elissa Nadworny
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
Anas Baba