'Nowhere to go': Displacement grips Gaza as air strikes intensify

UN official compares situation to 'human chessboard' with no safe haven

Clothes are hung on a window at a temporary shelter for internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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A UN humanitarian team leader has reported a severe lack of space for displaced Palestinians in Gaza.

Gemma Connell, stationed in Gaza for several weeks, likened the situation to a "human chess board," with thousands displaced more than once and finding no guaranteed safety in their destinations.

As Israel continues its military operations against Hamas, the US, Israel's key ally, has urged Israel to minimise civilian casualties by identifying safe zones and clearing humanitarian routes.

Despite these efforts, Ms Connell's observations paint a grim picture.

"People were heading south with mattresses and all of their belongings in vans and in trucks and in cars in order to try and find somewhere safe," she said during her visit to Deir Al Balah in central Gaza.

Ms Connell said the extreme congestion in Rafah left many without a clear refuge.

"I've spoken to many people," she said.

"There's so little space left here in Rafah that people just don't know where they will go, and it really feels like people being moved around a human chessboard because there's an evacuation order somewhere.

"People flee that area into another area. But they're not safe there."

She related the tragic death of a boy, 9, named Ahmed in Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al Balah, which was a supposed safe area.

"He was not in an area under an evacuation order," Ms Connell said.

"He was in an area that was supposed to be safe. There is no safe place in Gaza."

She said new air strikes took place when she was at the hospital and she saw the wounded being brought in.

Israeli air strike kills dozens of Palestinians in Gaza refugee camp

Israeli air strike kills dozens of Palestinians in Gaza refugee camp

An Israeli army representative said the military aims to evacuate civilians from combat zones, but Hamas impedes these efforts and uses civilians as human shields.

Hamas has denied these accusations.

"[The army] will act against Hamas wherever it operates, with full commitment to international law, while distinguishing between terrorists and civilians, and taking all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians," the army representative said.

US officials expect Israel to reduce its operations to more targeted approaches.

But Israeli attacks have intensified, with Palestinian health officials reporting more than 100 deaths in recent air strikes in central and southern Gaza, raising the death toll to nearly 20,700.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast in his campaign against Hamas, after the group's cross-border attack on October 7, which resulted in 1,200 deaths and 240 abductions.

Updated: December 25, 2023, 11:20 PM