(Bloomberg) -- The head of the World Health Organization said Israel ordered it to empty medical warehouses in the southern Gaza Strip, sounding the alarm about an impending humanitarian crisis as Israeli forces expand their war against Hamas. Israel rejected the charge. 

The WHO got an order that it should remove supplies from its two medical warehouses in the southern Gaza Strip within 24 hours “as ground operations will put them beyond use,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a post on the X social media site.

“We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” Ghebreyesus wrote.

Israel denied that it asked the WHO to evacuate the warehouses, saying on X that it refuted that allegation “to the relevant #UN representatives.” 

Israel has called for people to evacuate areas in southern Gaza, warning that its attacks there will be just as fierce as in the north, where much of the civilian infrastructure has been leveled. In unusually frank comments over the weekend, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had pushed Israel to avoid civilian casualties, warning against replacing “a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas, which is labeled a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, in the weeks since militants crossed into Israeli territory, killed some 1,200 people and kidnapped about 240 more. The WHO has spoken out repeatedly against the Israeli response, condemning attacks on hospitals and calling for a cease-fire.

(Adds Israeli rejection of the accusation starting in first paragraph.)

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