There is nowhere safe, even in Rafah, Gazans say as Israel orders more evacuations

Palestinians despair as focus of Israel's military campaign shifts to the south of Gaza

Palestinians check the damage after an Israeli strike in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip. AFP
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Palestinians are running out of places to flee the war in Gaza, after Israel ordered more evacuations in the south of the enclave.

“There is nowhere safe in Gaza, even in Rafah,” Mahmood El Sayed told The National, after residents of Khan Younis were told to move further south towards Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt.

Israel dropped leaflets telling people to leave areas in and around Gaza's second largest city of Khan Younis, in the southern half of the Gaza Strip but north of Rafah, and launched strikes against the city where it says Hamas leaders are hiding.

Hundreds of thousands of Gazans had already moved from the northern half of the enclave to the south, before the Israeli military effectively cut the territory in two.

Families have been broken up and unable to move between northern Gaza, where Israel has focused its ground offensive, and southern Gaza, which has been flooded by internally displaced Palestinians.

"The situation is really hard, my family is split into two. I'm in Khan Younis and they are on the other side. I don’t know how to get to them," said Mr El Sayed, who is from Gaza city in the north.

"All schools in Rafah are closed, there is no safe place there," he said.

The latest evacuation orders are focused on areas in and around Khan Younis, and Israel instructed Palestinians to move west and south to Rafah.

However, Palestinians said that they did not consider Rafah safe, as millions of people run out of places to flee the flighting.

Mahmood Hamdan, a resident of Khan Younis, told The National as he was getting on a bike to go to Rafah, that he needed somewhere to shelter.

"I'm on the way to Rafah because last night the air strikes increased around our house. I don’t know where we will go, but I just need a safe place for me and my family," he said.

More than 950,000 displaced people were sheltering in 99 UN centres, in southern Gaza, according to UNRWA representative Juliette Toma.

Thousands of Palestinians have been seeking shelter outside Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Younis.

Rawan Abu Yihya, a resident of Khan Younis, told The National that Israel dropped leaflets for people to leave the city on Sunday and head towards Rafah but she refuses to go.

"We can’t find any place in Rafah so we are going to Nasser hospital. I don’t know anywhere in Rafah, me and my kids are going now but my family are already there," she said.

On Sunday, the World Health Organisation visited the hospital, where it said "countless people" were seeking shelter.

“Yesterday our team visited Nassar Medical Hospital in the south. It was packed with 1,000 patients - three times over its capacity. Countless people were seeking shelter, filling every corner of the facility,” said WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“Patients were receiving care on the floor, screaming in pain. These conditions are beyond inadequate - unimaginable for the provision of health care,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

More than 15,500 Palestinians have been killed in the territory since the Israel-Gaza war began, after Hamas killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7.

About 1.8 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people are internally displaced within the enclave, according to the UN.

Many Palestinians now face being internally displaced again as Israel shifts its focus to the south.

Mohammed Al Dinehy, from Rimal in Gaza City, said he walked with his family from the north to the south and has been told again to leave.

"I'm going to find a safe place, once again we are out on the streets," he told The National.

"During the truce we were in Khan Younis and felt some safety but now I have to save myself and my kids," he said.

"We really don’t know where to go, we need help."

Updated: December 04, 2023, 3:30 AM