Rafah is a dusty, rubble-strewn ghost town 2 months after Israel's invasion

AP , AFP , Ahram Online , Sunday 7 Jul 2024

Two months ago, before Israeli troops invaded Rafah, the city sheltered most of Gaza's more than 2 million people, today it is a dust-covered ghost town.

Israeli tanks are seen next to destroyed buildings during a ground operation in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP


Abandoned, bullet-ridden apartment buildings have blasted out walls and shattered windows. Bedrooms and kitchens are visible from roads dotted with rubble piles that tower over the Israeli army vehicles passing by. Very few civilians remain.

Israel claims it has nearly defeated Hamas forces in Rafah — an area identified earlier this year as the resistance group's last stronghold in Gaza. However, Israel had also claimed to have defeated the group in several regions of the strip, such as Khan Younis and Gaza City's Shujaiya district before launching repeated ground assaults and invasions under the guise of "military operations" uprooting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Gazaans forced to be displaced repeatedly. 

The Israeli occupation army invited reporters into Rafah on Wednesday, the first time international media visited Gaza's southernmost city since it was invaded on May 6. Journalists, repeatedly targeted for dissenting against Israel's atrocities since the onset of the war on Gaza, are continuously met by assaults, cyber-attacks, hacking, and censorship from Israeli forces and settlers so they try to remain in areas designated by Israel. 

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians crammed into Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza. The UN estimates that around 50,000 remain in Rafah, which had a pre-war population of about 275,000.

Most have moved to a nearby Israel-declared “humanitarian area” where conditions are grave and is still targeted by Israeli strikes. Many are clustering in squalid tent camps along the beach with scant access to clean water, food, bathrooms and medical care.

The Israeli army said Tuesday it estimates at least 1.8 million Palestinians are now in the humanitarian zone it declared, covering a stretch of about 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) along the Mediterranean. Much of that area is now blanketed with tent camps that lack sanitation and medical facilities with limited access to aid, UN and humanitarian groups say.

Israel told people to move to Mawassi, a coastal area northwest of Rafah city which has become filled with tent camps.

However, Israeli forces have not spared their so-called “safe zone” from a relentless campaign of airstrikes and artillery shelling. 

They continued shelling makeshift refugee centres of displaced people in the Mawassi area well into the end of June. On Saturday, June 29th, the third day in a row, killing several Palestinians, after having issued the order of evacuation directing displaced Gazaans to the coastal area. 

On Friday, Israeli forces killed at least 11 Palestinians and injured 40 others while targeting tents of displaced people in the Mawassi area, according to WAFA. 

Efforts to bring aid into southern Gaza have been barred by Israeli forces. After brutally invading Rafah, Israeli forces closed down one of two major crossings into the south of Gaza. The UN says little aid can enter from the other main crossing — Karm Abu Salem — because the route is too dangerous.

UN officials say some commercial trucks have braved the route into Rafah, but not without hired armed guards riding atop their convoys.

Israeli soldiers brought journalists in open-air military vehicles down the road that leads into the heart of the city.

Along the way, debris lying by the side of the road made clear the perils of aid delivery: carcasses of trucks lying baking in the hot sun; dashboards covered in fencing meant to protect drivers; aid pallets lying empty.

The longer the aid delivery is frozen, humanitarian groups say, the closer Gaza comes to running out of fuel, which is needed for hospitals, water desalination plants and vehicles.

“The hospitals are once again short on fuel, risking disruption of critical services,” said Dr. Hanan Balkhy, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean. "Injured people are dying because the ambulance services are facing delays due to fuel shortages.”

Even as the humanitarian situation worsens, Israel is still pushing ahead with its war. Combat in Rafah is ongoing.

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