Home News 300,000 Gazans are on the move as Israel steps up attacks

300,000 Gazans are on the move as Israel steps up attacks


About 300,000 Palestinians in southern and northern Gaza have once again been forced to flee, United Nations saidIsrael issued a new expanded evacuation order on Saturday. But many are unsure where to find safe haven in the war-torn place.

The expanded evacuation order applies to the city of Rafah in Gaza’s southernmost tip, where more than a million Gazans have gathered over the past seven months fleeing Israeli bombardment elsewhere. They deepened fears that Israeli forces would go ahead with an incursion into Rafah, which Israeli leaders have long promised but which international aid groups and many countries have condemned.

Some 150,000 people have fled Rafah in the past six days. According to UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for the Palestinians.

“The situation is very difficult, the number of people displaced is so high, they don’t know where to go, but they leave and try to escape as far as possible,” said Mohammad al-Masri, 31, an old accountant. Hiding in a tent in Rafah with his family. “Fear, confusion, oppression, anxiety are eating people away.”

European Council President Charles Michel on Saturday criticized expanded evacuation orders on social mediasaid: “The order to evacuate trapped civilians in Rafah to unsafe areas is unacceptable.”

Israel took control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing on Monday in what it called a “limited operation”, as bombing and fighting continued in and around the city.

The Israeli military said it was conducting “precision operations” targeting Hamas “in specific areas east of Rafah.” But of the more than 34,000 Palestinians reported dead in Gaza, the majority were women and children, according to local health officials. Dozens of people have been killed in Israeli attacks on Rafah since Monday, health officials said.

Most of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have been forced from their homes, often multiple times during the war, and many now live in ramshackle tents, classrooms or crowded apartments.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Saturday that it “called on residents of other areas east of Rafah to temporarily evacuate to the expanded humanitarian zone in Mawasi, a coastal area north of Rafah.”

“So far, approximately 300,000 Gazans have traveled to the humanitarian area of ​​Mawasi,” the military added.

Although Israel has designated Mawasi as a humanitarian zone, the United Nations has stressed that the area is neither safe nor capable of hosting the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war.

“Everywhere you see in the West now #rafa Households are packing their belongings this morning,” UNRWA spokesman Louise Watridge wrote on social media on Saturday. “The streets are visibly empty. “

Although Israeli forces have bombarded Rafah, they have also returned to northern Gaza areas several times in recent weeks, including the town of Beit Hanoun and Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, in response to new armed activity. On Saturday, the Israeli military ordered an evacuation of the northern city of Jabaliya ahead of a planned operation.

Israel began a ground invasion of northern Gaza in late October in response to an October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. Large swathes of the region have been devastated by months of Israeli airstrikes and shelling, leaving a lawless wasteland ruled by street gangs. The Israeli military said it had killed many of Hamas’ leading commanders in the area while driving out the group’s militants.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed by an explosive device in northern Gaza on Friday, the military said. Israel said in a statement on Saturday that Hamas was trying to “regroup its terrorist infrastructure and operatives” around Jabaliya, which the Israeli military considers a Hamas stronghold and base of operations.

Fatma Edaama, a 36-year-old Jabaliya resident, said Saturday she hoped the recent fighting would be limited enough to allow her family to stay. “Our lives ended in 2006,” when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections, leading Israel to begin tightening restrictions on Gaza, she said, adding, “We had no safe place to go.”

Israeli military analysts say Hamas’s apparent resurgence in northern Gaza is the result of Israel’s failure to establish any alternative form of government there, leaving a vacuum that has become an ideal breeding ground for the insurgents. Michael Milstein, a former senior Israeli intelligence official, said that while Israeli forces swept through some areas, when they inevitably retreated, Hamas reasserted its control, either directly or through allies.

“Hamas still rules,” Mr. Milstein said. “Their forces are severely damaged, but they are still capable. There are still no alternatives to Gaza, and every alternative we have tried to establish has failed.”

Earlier this week, Razan al-Sa’eedi, an 18-year-old accounting student, was preparing to leave the UNRWA school in Rafah with his family, where they had been living for several months. But while they were waiting for a driver who had arranged to transport them to another city, they learned that his vehicle – a tractor pulling a large cart – had been hit by an Israeli missile, Ms. Saidi said. A man was killed, she said.

Panicking, they called local emergency personnel but were told they couldn’t help. Ms. Saeedi said the family left most of their belongings and set out on foot, each carrying only a backpack.

As they waited for Ms Saidi’s father and brother at the school gate, they saw them running with blood on their faces.

“We saw a drone firing around them,” she said. “We carried our backpacks and fled the entire danger zone.”

As they fled, they occasionally stopped and tried to flag down passing taxis, but time and again found the taxis full, Ms. Saeedi said.

She said they arrived at Al-Aqsa University in the southern city of Khan Younis after a nearly two-day trek that included hours of walking and finally a taxi ride. In one of the university’s buildings, classroom walls are covered with scrawled messages.

She said one message said: “This floor is booked,” while another read: “Please do not occupy any rooms or we will kick you out.”

Only a small closet that once housed a generator was empty. That has to be done.

“We only had three blankets to use as curtains,” Ms. Saeedi said. “We have no choice but this little room.”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmed Reporting from Haifa, Israel.

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