To background of bombs, Palestinians flee Rafah to seek shelter elsewhere once again

Palestinian civilians headed out of Rafah on Monday to seek refuge elsewhere in the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected Israeli army offensive.
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 14:06 IST
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 14:06 IST

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Rafah: Lashed by the rain and fearful of Israeli bombs, Palestinian civilians headed out of sodden tented camps or family homes in Rafah on Monday to seek refuge elsewhere in the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected Israeli army offensive.

Some loaded children and possessions onto donkey carts, some packed into cars, others simply walked. The roof of at least one car was piled high with mattresses. Another had a wheelchair stowed in the boot.

The question on people's minds was where could they go. Many had already relocated at least once during the seven-month Israeli assault on Gaza. Much of the coastal enclave has been turned into a wasteland of bombed-out buildings.

"The Israeli occupation told people to go to Rafah and that it is a safe area. Today, they're telling us to get out of Rafah. Where will the people go?," said one man, Abu Ahmed.

He was speaking in a displaced persons camp where overnight rains had turned pathways into puddles and mud, compounding their misery.

Israel ordered Palestinians to evacuate parts of Rafah early on Monday, apparently getting ready for a long-expected assault on Hamas militants holding out in the southern Gaza city.

More than one million people uprooted by the war have been sheltering there. The Israeli military told them they should relocate to what it called an "expanded humanitarian zone" 20 km away.

Even as people began packing up and moving out, explosions were heard from air strikes on eastern Rafah, the smoke and dust providing an eerie backdrop to the forced evacuation.

"We have been awake since two in the morning because of the bombardment, and we woke up in the morning to find rain pouring, we drowned in the rain, our clothes and items as well - we are out on the streets," said camp resident Aminah Adwan.

"We also woke up to much worse news, the call to evacuate Rafah. The biggest genocide will take place, the biggest catastrophe will take place in Rafah," she said.

She appealed to Arab countries to arrange for a ceasefire to save Palestinian civilians.

More than 34,700 Palestinians have been killed and at least 78,000 wounded, according to Gaza health ministry figures, in the war that began after Hamas carried out a cross-border raid on October 7, in which 1,200 people were killed and 252 hostages taken, according to Israeli counts.

Israel says Rafah harbours thousands of Hamas fighters and potentially dozens of hostages, and capturing the city is critical for its campaign to defeat Hamas and release all those still held hostage.

God our only support

In the camp, women hung clothes and blankets to dry while children looked after their younger siblings and men dug trenches to channel the rainwater.

Maher al-Jamal said he had fled from Al Mughraqa, a town near Gaza City in the north of the enclave, to Nuseirat in central Gaza, then on to Rafah.

"Now they threaten Rafah, they will commit massacres here in Rafah, it will be a genocide. We honestly don't know where to go. God is our only support," he said.

People were evacuating their homes as well as the displaced camps. Areas targeted included the main Rafah hospital and the Rafah crossing—the only window to the world for most of Gaza's population—as well as the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom. The two crossings are vital for the flow of goods into the enclave.

A fleeing woman who was standing in a main street in Rafah said the Israeli military had called them by telephone all night telling them to evacuate.

"The people are all dead, what do they want from us?," Rahmah Naser said, waving her arms in anguish. "They killed our children. My nephew (was found) in pieces, with no head or legs. Shame on them. These people have had enough, where should they go?"

Mohammad al-Najjar, a 23-year-old trainee lawyer who lives with his family in western Rafah, said people were gripped by fear and anxiety following the Israeli evacuation order.

"No area is safe," he told Reuters by phone.

The few relatively safer areas that Palestinians could flee to were already packed with tents and thousands of people who had been displaced, he said.

"All that remains in Gaza is death," he said. "I wish I could erase these last seven months from my memory."

Published 06 May 2024, 14:06 IST

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