Thousands of Palestinians fled the north of the Gaza Strip on Saturday from the path of an expected Israeli ground assault, while Israel pounded the area with more airstrikes and said it would keep two roads open to let people escape.

Israel had given the entire population of the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which includes the enclave's biggest settlement Gaza City, until Saturday morning to move south. It announced overnight that it would guarantee the safety of Palestinians fleeing the area on two main roads until 4 p.m.

"Around the Gaza Strip, Israeli reserve soldiers in formation (are) getting ready for the next stage of operations," Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told a video briefing early Saturday.