“Could you hold the line please, I just need to check on that missile strike,”

said an IDF press department employee in a flawless American accent.

“We’ll get back to you on this.”

With a click we were put on hold.

Journalists in flak jackets and pajamas, and terrified Palestinian guests clutching their children wandered in the dark. Gaza City shuddered around us.

Moments before, we’d had the call from the IDF: Leave your hotel now or risk getting killed—the Israeli army wanted to missile the area next to our building, a strike in response to alleged Hamas activity.

This is what they do: a phone call, a text message, or non-explosive “warning missile” that lets civilians know their location will be under attack.

Israeli forces’ flares light up the night sky of Gaza City on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The hotel erupted into a mad scramble as journalists dived for their equipment and Palestinians staying there rounded up their belongings.

Usually citizens are just given a few minutes to get out and run to safety. But now, in this tiny coastal enclave that has been pounded by missiles and shells for three weeks, no one knows where is safe to run to.

In a confused voice, the IDF lady asked us where we were —central or North Gaza?

“Thanks for waiting, I just need to check with my colleagues,” she said. Furious typing made it clear she had no knowledge of the strike area. Then she awkwardly spelled out the name of another hotel that journalists could stay in: It was the one right next to ours.

Sprinting through a deserted pitch-black neighborhood, against the backdrop of the dull thump of shelling and whine of drones, our motley crew of half-dressed journalists called again, panicked. On speaker phone, we told them: We’re still moving. Could you possibly hold off? Is there an ETA on the missiles?

“We’re trying to delay the strike,” a different voice replied brightly.

“But please do hurry up.”

Bel Trew is a journalist based in Cairo

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