'There is no safe place in Gaza,' Palestinians fear after heading south

Some of the million civilians thought to have fled are now 'living in catastrophe'

A man in Khan Younis, Gaza, cries on Monday after his home was bombed in Israeli raids in the southern Gaza Strip. Getty Images
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From the home of a relative in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Soha Ahmed holds up her mobile phone as she tries to find a connection to call her fiance in the US.

The 23-year-old is one of a million Gazans thought to have headed south, with many ending up in Khan Younis, which has a population of 350,000.

Since the intense Israeli bombardments began in the coastal enclave nine days ago, she has been unable to contact her fiance.

"I didn't expect that my life would turn out like this,” she tells The National. “No water, no electricity – why all of that? Is that because we are seeking freedom?"

As Soha searches her belongings to find her phone charger, she picks up a bouquet from her engagement party.

"When they asked us to collect our most important things before we moved south, I tried to take some memories with me," she adds.

Soha sits inside a small room with her cousins who fled together.

Nearby, at a small supermarket in a refugee camp in Khan Younis, others like Soha buy toilet paper, underwear and various essentials.

Zainab Ali looks for toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“I am looking for mineral water but I can't find any," she says.

"There is no water to wash our faces. We are living in catastrophe."

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, says Gaza residents are drinking contaminated water.

”We warned of the danger of this,” a spokesman for the organisation says.

“There is unprecedented destruction and the needs of people who flee to the south are beyond our capabilities.”

Zainab fled from the Al Nasser neighbourhood with her husband and three children. Exhausted from the move, they now hope for a ceasefire.

“They asked us to flee to the south for our safety but we are dying slowly in these unbelievable conditions,” she says.

“Rubbish is jammed in the streets. It will lead to disease."

After making the move, Khan Younis resident Sharif Thaheer and his family have had to stay on the streets.

He initially moved from Gaza’s Shajaia neighbourhood to Tal Al Hawa before heading south.

He says he is now considering returning to Gaza with his family.

“I don't know where I am supposed to go,” he says. “I am just walking, following people.

"There is no safe place in Gaza Strip, from the north to the south. A number of houses were targeted by Israeli warplanes.

“Houses are [full of] people who have fled from the north.”

At the camp, residents stand in a circle waiting to charge their mobile phones through a plug connected to a solar power bank.

"My brothers refused to come to the south, so I want to keep calling them to be sure that they are OK," he tells The National.

"We are living the worst time of our life. We are just trying to survive."

Updated: October 17, 2023, 8:48 AM