Strikes on Gaza's southern edge sow fear in one of the last areas Palestinians are fleeing: AP report

AP , Thursday 7 Dec 2023

Israeli occupation army struck the southern Gaza town of Rafah twice, residents said Thursday, sowing fear in one of the last places where civilians have sought refuge after Israel widened its offensive against Hamas to areas already packed with displaced people.

An aerial picture shows displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Yunis setting up camp near warehouses a
An aerial picture shows displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Yunis setting up camp near warehouses affiliated in the UN in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip s border with Egypt, on December 7, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. AFP


United Nations officials say there are no safe places in Gaza. Heavy Israeli strikes in and around the southern city of Khan Younis have displaced tens of thousands of people and cut most of Gaza off from deliveries of food, water and other vital aid. More than 80% of the territory's population has already fled their homes.

Two months into the Israeli war on Gaza, the grinding offensive has set off renewed alarms internationally, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres using a rarely exercised power to warn the Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” and urging members to demand a cease-fire.

The United States has called on Israel to limit civilian deaths and displacement, saying too many Palestinians were killed when it obliterated much of Gaza City and the north. But the U.S. has also pledged unwavering support for Israel and appears likely to block any U.N. effort to halt the fighting.

Israel says it must crush Hamas' military capabilities and remove it from power following the Oct. 7 operation in the Gaza Envelope.

Troops have pushed into Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, which Israeli officials have portrayed as Hamas' center of gravity — something they previously said was in Gaza City and its Shifa Hospital.

Israel has ordered the evacuation of some two dozen southern neighborhoods, rather than the entire region as it did in the north.

However, the areas where Palestinians can seek safety are rapidly receding. With northern and central Gaza largely isolated and cut off from aid, Palestinians are heading south to Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt, where family homes are packed tight and makeshift shelters are overflowing.

Even there, safety has proven elusive, as Israel continues to strike what it says are Hamas targets across the coastal territory.

A strike late Wednesday leveled a home in Rafah, sending a wave of wounded streaming into a nearby hospital. Eyad al-Hobi, who witnessed the attack, said around 20 people were killed, including women and children. Another house was hit early Thursday, residents said.

“We live in fear every moment, for our children, ourselves, our families,” said Dalia Abu Samhadaneh, now living in Rafah with her family after fleeing Khan Younis. “We live with the anxiety of expulsion.”

The military accused militants of firing rockets from open areas near Rafah in the humanitarian zone. It released footage of a strike Wednesday on what it said were launchers positioned outside the town and a few hundred meters (yards) from a U.N. warehouse.

Strikes in North and South

The U.N. says some 1.87 million people — over 80% of the population of 2.3 million — have already fled their homes, many of them displaced multiple times.

Israel's campaign has killed more than 17,100 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Doctors Without Borders, the international aid group, said another 115 bodies arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah in a 24-hour period.

“The hospital is full, the morgue is full,” the group said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The military said Thursday that it struck dozens of militant targets in Khan Younis, including a tunnel shaft from which fighters had launched an attack. It said two of the attackers were killed.

In the afternoon, a heavy strike near a main intersection in the center of Khan Younis left a large field of rubble, and survivors said many people were believed buried underneath. Rescuers pulled bloodied women and children from the shells of nearby buildings gutted in the blast and a pickup truck rushed off carrying several wounded men.

A built-up refugee camp inside Khan Younis was the childhood home of Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, and the group’s military chief, Mohammed Deif, as well as other Hamas leaders — though their current whereabouts are unknown.

Heavy Israeli strike is also still underway in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, even after two months of heavy bombardment and encirclement by ground troops. The military said troops raided a militant compound, killing a number of fighters and uncovering a network of tunnels.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the latest reports from the battlefield.

The military says 87 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. 

Humanitarian crisis worsens

Tens of thousands of people have fled from Khan Younis and other areas to Rafah, on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, the U.N. said, adding that five U.N. schools where displaced people were sheltering in Khan Younis were completely evacuated after direct orders from the Israeli military.

Rafah, normally home to around 280,000 people, is already hosting more than 470,000 who fled from other parts of Gaza.

On the other side of the border, Egypt has deployed thousands of troops and erected earthen barriers to prevent any mass influx of refugees. It says an influx would undermine its decades-old peace treaty with Israel, and it doubts Israel will let them back into Gaza.

For days now, aid groups have been able to distribute supplies only in and around Rafah, and mainly just flour and water, the U.N.’s humanitarian aid office said. Access farther north has been cut off by fighting and Israeli forces closing roads.

Within shelters in the south, communicable diseases have significantly increased, along with cases of diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, skin infections and hygiene-related conditions such as lice, the U.N. said.

The World Food Program said a “catastrophic hunger crisis” threatens to "overwhelm the civilian population.”

Gaza has been without electricity since the first week of the war, and hospitals and water treatment plants have been forced to shut down for lack of fuel to operate generators. Israel allows a trickle of aid from Egypt but has greatly restricted imports of fuel, claiming Hamas diverts it for military purposes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would allow small deliveries of fuel into the southern Gaza Strip “from time to time” to prevent the spread of disease. The “minimal amount” of fuel will be set by the war cabinet, he said.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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