Growing numbers of Palestinians flee on foot, forced by Israel

AP , Wednesday 8 Nov 2023

Forced by Israel, thousands of Palestinians are evacuating their homes, fleeing south on foot with only what they can carry after running out of food and water in the north, a U.N. agency said Wednesday, as Israeli troops continue attacking deep inside Gaza City.

A woman carries a white flag to prevent being shot, as Palestinians flee Gaza City to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din street in Bureij, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. AP


Over 70% of Gaza's population of 2.3 million have already fled their homes, but the growing numbers making their way south point to an increasingly desperate situation in and around Gaza's largest city, which has come under heavy Israeli bombardment.

The war has entered a second month, with an increasingly dire humanitarian situation inside the besieged Palestinian enclave and no end in sight.

About 15,000 people fled northern Gaza on Tuesday, triple the number that left Monday, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They are using Gaza's main north-south highway during a daily four-hour window announced by Israel.

Those fleeing include children, the elderly and people with disabilities, and most walked with minimal belongings, the U.N. agency said.

Some say they had to cross Israeli checkpoints, where they saw people being arrested, while others held their hands in the air and raised white flags while passing Israeli tanks.

Residents reported loud explosions overnight into Wednesday across Gaza City and in its Shati refugee camp, which houses Palestinian families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its establishment.

“The bombings were heavy and close,” said Mohamed Abed, who lives in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood. He said residents panicked when they heard the news late Tuesday that Israeli ground forces were fighting deep inside the city.

The Israeli military said it killed one of Hamas' leading developers of rockets and other weapons, without saying where he was killed. Hamas has denied that Israeli troops have made any significant gains or entered Gaza City. 

Israel is focusing its operations on Gaza City, which was home to some 650,000 Palestinians before the war and where it claims Hamas has its central command and a vast labyrinth of tunnels.

Hundreds of thousands have heeded Israeli orders to flee the north in recent weeks, even though Israel also routinely strikes the south, killing thousands of civilians.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians remain in the north, many sheltering at hospitals or U.N. schools. The north has been without running water for weeks, and the U.N. agency said the last functioning bakeries shut down on Tuesday for lack of fuel, water and flour. Hospitals running low on supplies are performing surgeries — including amputations — without anaesthesia, it said.

Majed Haroun, who lives in Gaza City, said women and children go door to door asking for food, while those in shelters rely on local donations. “They should allow aid for those children,” he said.

The situation is little better in the south, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are packed into U.N.-run schools and other facilities. At one packed shelter, 600 people must share a single toilet, according to the U.N. office.

A month of Israeli relentless bombardment in Gaza has killed more than 10,300 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry. More than 2,300 are believed to have been buried by strikes that in some cases have demolished entire city blocks.

Israel says 30 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the ground attack began, and Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets into Israel in retaliation.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israel would maintain “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for an “indefinite period” after defeating Hamas.

However, his main ally, the United States, is opposed to any reoccupation of the territory, from which Israel removed soldiers and settlers in 2005.

The U.S. has suggested that a revitalized Palestinian Authority could govern Gaza. But the internationally recognized PA, whose forces were driven out of Gaza 16 years ago, says it would only do so as part of a solution to the conflict that creates a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, and should evacute as per the UN security Council resolutions.

Israel's government was staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood even before the Oct. 7 Al Aqsa Flood operation in the occupied Gaza envelope. It has maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since in 2007.

Hundreds of trucks carrying aid have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since Oct. 21. But humanitarian workers say the aid is far short of mounting needs. Egypt’s Rafah crossing has also opened to allow hundreds of foreign passport holders and medical patients to leave Gaza.

More than 160 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli-occupied Jerusalem and West Bank since the war began.

The war has stoked wider tensions, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group trading fire along the border. 

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