ARUN RATH, HOST:
And we go now to NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza. She caught up with some of the thousands of residents fleeing their homes in anticipation of a new Israeli assault.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Palestinians in cars, on motorbikes and donkey carts followed Gaza's main roads south this morning. Jamil Sultan traveled on a cart with two grandchildren on his lap, another driving, his wife and two granddaughters.
JAMIL SULTAN: (Through translator) Tonight, it was hell there - too much shooting and shelling. And Israelis - they called us at the landline and they told us you have to leave the area immediately. We left all her clothes, our private things at home. We brought things that we can sleep and sit on it.
HARRIS: On another cart heading south, Aliya Gabin holds an infant. Seven other children are with her. They're heading for a school run by the United Nations in Gaza.
ALIYA GABIN: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: The U.N. schools are safe, she says, because all the houses are targeted. We don't know what else to do. This is torture, she says. In the courtyard of Al Rimal Elementary School, families unload bedding, cooking pot, bags of rice. U.N. staff say the first people seeking shelter knocked on school gates at 2 a.m. in the middle of an Israeli bombing campaign. In an upstairs classroom, a message on the blackboard left over from the school year announces a test on human rights issues. A U.N. worker registers a family.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: They're trying to put no more than 30 people in each classroom and trying to keep extended families together.
HARRIS: Nayhid Sayyed’s 3-year-old daughter is crying. This is the third time Sayyed has left her home, due to fighting a Gaza.
NAYHID SAYYED: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: Whenever there's a war, we come here, she says. This is the third time we've come. It's always the same - hitting, bombing, incursions. The U.N. has been preparing for this kind of evacuation, says Robert Turner, the director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza. The last time Israel sent troops into Gaza on the ground, five years ago, 50,000 Palestinians sought shelter in schools.
ROBERT TURNER: So we have prepared, more or less, for a similar kind of number. Unfortunately, we don't have the supplies we would like to have, because we had to distribute a lot of relief supplies after the flooding - really terrible flooding in December of last year. We were never able to find the funding to replenish the stocks.
HARRIS: The agency has enough supplies for about 35,000 people, he says. Israel widely publicized, yesterday, its warnings to civilians in Northern Gaza to leave, calling cell phones and dropping leaflets. But some residents near border areas got warnings several days ago. Um Muhanaad Abu Haloub left her home in the North on Thursday. She went to relatives in Gaza City.
UM MUHANAAD ABU HALOUB: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: They said if you stay in your home you'll die, she said. But if you leave, you will be safe. We were afraid. My daughter came with me at first. But when she saw that nothing happened at home, she went back, she said. Her 80-year-old husband, Mohammad Arafa Abu Haloub, had stayed back on their land. Their daughter and a son stayed with him. But this morning, they all changed their minds and left. He says it was not easy to abandon his home.
MOHAMMAD ARAFA ABU HALOUB: (Through translator) We received six warnings before. I always intended not to leave. But I changed my mind, finally, because I wanted to protect and save the lives of my son and daughter, who came and stayed with me. And they refused to leave unless I leave with them.
HARRIS: Hamas countered early Israeli warnings to leave the North with its own calls for Palestinian to stay and not believe Israeli threats. But some people leaving today said Hama leaders told them it was better to go. The militant group formally quit governing the Gaza Strip last month, but remains in clear control of at least the weapons here. Israel pulled out of Gaza nine years ago. The U.N.'s Robert Turner says he's not sure what comes next.
TURNER: That's a big question. That's what has us most worried is, how does this end? Who picks up the keys to Gaza when this is over?
HARRIS: Emily Harris, NPR New, Gaza.