Exodus on foot - Palestinians flee as Israeli forces close in on Gaza City

The pace of Palestinian civilians fleeing the combat zone in northern Gaza has picked up as Israel's air and ground campaign there intensifies, UN monitors said Wednesday. About 15,000 people fled on Tuesday, compared to 5,000 on Monday and 2,000 on Sunday, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The civilians flee during a four-hour window set daily by the Israeli military that assures safe passage from Gaza City and its surroundings to the south. Most of those leaving were children, the elderly and people with disabilities, the UN agency said. Many arrived on foot with minimal belongings.

Reports of Israeli checkpoints

In a new development, some of those fleeing reported that they had to cross Israeli checkpoints to reach the south and that they had witnessed some arrests by Israeli forces. Others have said they had to walk past Israeli tanks with raised hands while waving white flags.

The densely populated northern area of Gaza, specifically Gaza City and adjacent urban refugee camps, are the focus of Israel's campaign to crush Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza for 16 years. The war, now in its second month, was triggered by the 7 October Hamas attack on southern Israel.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians remain in the combat area, many sheltering at hospitals or UN schools. Some said they were deterred from moving south because of dire humanitarian conditions in the evacuation zone and ongoing Israeli airstrikes across Gaza, including the south.

UN monitors say some 1.5 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been displaced.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in the besieged territory, the Israeli military campaign has killed 10,569 people, many of them children.

Israel has said it is stepping up attacks against the subterranean network built by Hamas under the Gaza strip, claiming to have destroyed 130 Hamas tunnels since the fighting began.