Thomas White, the Gaza director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, said early Tuesday that neighborhoods that are home to some 600,000 people were ordered to be emptied.

The evacuation could drive an additional half million people to Rafah, along the southern border with Egypt, doubling the number of the displaced sheltering in the already brimming city, he wrote on the social media site X.

The U.N. humanitarian office said on Monday that some of the shelters Israel had told people to flee to were “already overcrowded.” With the shelters in Rafah already well beyond capacity, the new arrivals were erecting tents and fashioning makeshift shelters in the streets or whatever empty spaces they can find around the city, according to the daily report from the United Nations’ office for humanitarian affairs.

Many Gazans were struggling with the question of where to go. Khalil Ahmed, 53, a chemistry teacher, said in an interview that before the war he was in Egypt with his wife for medical treatment. They decided to return to their house in the Nuseirat refugee community, just south of Gaza City, because they were worried about their children and grandchildren.

They crossed the border on the third day of a seven-day truce, he said, carrying as much food as they could. Their community, a former U.N. refugee camp that has been built up over decades, was nearly destroyed, he said. Two buildings next to his were bombed out. The windows of his house had been smashed. No cars were moving on the streets.

Everywhere he looked he saw refugees from other parts of Gaza, who had taken shelter in four U.N. run schools there. Pale, shocked people wandered about searching for food and water. There was no internet, and so no news.

Since the war resumed last week, he said, the sounds of bombing from drones and warplanes has been incessant, accompanied by din of combat from tanks and infantry. He has weighed fleeing Nuseirat with his family but so far they have stayed put.

“As long as so many people remain, I am staying here,” he said. “They are bombing everywhere and where we are seems to be less dangerous than in Khan Younis and Deir El Balah. They are hitting there very hard.”

Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting.

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