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Israel army evacuation orders in Gaza contain errors, BBC finds

April 5, 2024 at 3:36 pm

Palestinians, carrying their belongings as they flee from intense Israeli attacks, migrate towards Rafah and Deir Al Balah from Khan Yunis on January 22, 2024 in Deir Al Balah, Gaza [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

An analysis by the BBC has uncovered numerous errors in the evacuation warnings issued by Israel to residents of Gaza.

These warnings often included conflicting details and inaccurately named areas, causing confusion among Gazans attempting to find safety, which experts warn could constitute a breach of Israel’s obligations under international law .

In response, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) denied claims that the warnings were confusing or contradictory. According to the occupation army, the alerts assessed by the BBC represent just one aspect of their “extensive efforts to encourage the evacuation [of] civilians out of harm’s way.”

Israel claims its warning system is designed to help civilians flee danger as it divides a map of Gaza into hundreds of numbered blocks. It’s also claimed to have developed an interactive online map featuring numbered blocks to aid in locating users, providing real-time information about their current location and corresponding block number.

However, Palestinians interviewed by the BBC reported difficulties accessing the system online and expressed confusion over the block system.

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Moreover, the BBC conducted an analysis of the IDF Arabic-language social media channels on platforms such as Facebook, X, and Telegram that revealed several posts containing warnings, often duplicated across platforms.

Additionally, the team searched for leaflet warnings shared online, with the IDF claiming to have distributed 16 million leaflets over Gaza. The analysis focused on warnings issued since 1 December, coinciding with the IDF’s launch of the block system in response to international pressure for clearer instructions.

The occupation army informed the BBC of other warning methods, including pre-recorded phone messages and live calls, however data on these calls could not be compiled due to damage to Gaza’s phone network.

Among the 26 warnings identified, specific escape instructions were provided by the army. However, 17 of these warnings contained errors and inconsistencies, including 12 warnings in which blocks or neighbourhoods were noted in the text of the post but were not highlighted on the accompanying map.

Also, nine warnings highlighted areas on the map but omitted them from the accompanying text while ten warnings depicted evacuation zones on the map that split blocks, potentially causing confusion.

In addition to this, seven warnings featured arrows on the map intended to indicate safe areas but mistakenly pointed to locations also under evacuation.

The Israeli army chose not to address the specific concerns raised by the BBC regarding the maps. Instead, it asserted that the text of the posts had been sufficiently clear.

The IDF further claimed that when arrows were used to guide people to safety, “it is obvious that the arrows point to a general direction” and that crucial information had been provided in the text.

According to Janina Dill, co-director of the Oxford Institute of Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict, these inaccuracies and errors could potentially breach Israel’s obligation under international law to offer “effective advanced warnings.”

If the majority of warnings contain errors or are unclear to the extent that civilians cannot understand them, Dill argues, “these warnings do not fulfil the proper function they have under international humanitarian law.”

Israeli forces have issued multiple so-called “evacuation orders” since 7 October, primarily directing civilians to three areas in the south – Khan Yunis, Rafah and Al-Mawasi. All three have subsequently been hit by Israeli air strikes, with civilians, including children, killed and injured.

A Palestinian mother in January narrated the harrowing account of her family’s ordeal after believing they were seeking refuge in a designated ‘safe zone’ in Al-Mawasi, southern Gaza. Instead, they encountered a deadly Israeli assault that destroyed their temporary shelter, resulting in the death of one child and severe injuries to another.

Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip since October 2023, making 85 per cent of its population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

Tel Aviv stands accused of genocide at the ICJ, which in January issued an interim ruling that ordered Israel to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

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