UN says Israel evacuation order largest in Gaza since October

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday that an order by Israel for Palestinians to evacuate areas of Khan Younis and Rafah was the largest such edict in the Gaza Strip since 1.1 million people were told to leave the north of the enclave in October.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday's evacuation order applies to about a third of Gaza and initial estimates by the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) showed that some 250,000 people may have been currently living in that area.

Dujarric said "an evacuation of such a massive scale will only heighten the suffering of civilians and drive humanitarian needs even higher."

"People are left with the impossible choice of having to relocate, some most likely for the second or third time, to areas that have barely any spaces or services, or staying in areas where they know heavy fighting will take place," he said.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas burst into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages, including civilians and soldiers, back into Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive launched by Israel in retaliation has killed nearly 38,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has left the heavily built-up coastal enclave in ruins. Some 2.3 million people live in Gaza.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell)