AN AGREEMENT has been reached to allow foreigners to exit Gaza through the Rafah border crossing later Saturday.

It comes as Palestinians are scrambling to flee northern Gaza after Israel ordered nearly half the population to flee south and carried out limited ground forays ahead of an expected land offensive, as the war appeared set to escalate a week after a wide-ranging Hamas attack on Israel.

Israel renewed calls on social media and in leaflets dropped from the air for some one million residents to move south, while Hamas urged people to stay in their homes.

The UN and aid groups have said such a rapid exodus would cause untold human suffering, with hospital patients and others unable to relocate.

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Families in cars, trucks and donkey carts packed with their possessions crowded a main road heading southwards from Gaza City as Israeli air strikes continued to hammer the besieged territory.

Palestinian witnesses said Israel struck cars rushing south, and Hamas said the strikes killed more than 70 people.

The Israeli military, which has not commented on the strikes, posted a message in Arabic on social media saying Palestinians could travel along two main routes without being harmed from 10am to 4pm local time.

The military said on Saturday that “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians had already streamed south.