'I didn't want to leave': Split families fear for loved ones as Gaza war enters 100th day

Palestinians forced to live apart in enclave are struggling to talk to each other on the phone due to Israeli-imposed communication blackouts

People flee the area after Israeli strikes in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, in November. AFP
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The Israel-Gaza war enters its 100th day on Sunday, while the situation for Palestinians stuck inside the enclave remains dire.

Nearly 24,000 have been killed and thousands more wounded during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops began the offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza stormed southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people on October 7.

The violence has separated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from loved ones, who have been displaced to other parts of Gaza or neighbouring countries.

Families say continuous communication blackouts imposed by Israel means they are unable to reach each other.

Ashraf Al Qudra has to to walk the dangerous route to the Al Shifa area in Gaza city, to find mobile phone coverage to call his mother Soria Ahmed.

She was displaced to the south of the Strip along with Mr Al Qudra's four sisters.

“The journey to Al Shifa is not easy," Mr Al Qudra tells The National.

"I have to walk for 20 minutes to reach the area, where sometimes snipers shoot at us."

The 27-year-old is staying with his grandfather, Salah Ahmed, who refuses to leave his house.

He says he does not want to give the Israeli army the satisfaction of displacing him, even if it means risking his life.

Mr Al Qudra has previously been shot in the leg on his way from his grandfather's house to Al Shifa.

“Israeli planes sometimes hover over us and shoot people, so we need to be careful all the time and examine the area we are going to,” he says.

Painful choices

Soria Ahmed, Mr Al Qudra’s mother, made the decision to leave her home in Gaza city and flee to the south for the safety of her daughters, while her father and son stayed behind.

She did not expect to be gone for three months.

“I feel so worried about my father and my son. I struggle every day to reach them,” Ms Ahmed, who is staying in Rafah city, tells The National.

“I constantly hold my phone, hoping to receive any news that would bring me comfort, I spent one month before now not knowing anything about them.”

She wants the war to end so she can reunite with her father and son.

“I didn't have a choice. I was torn between the safety of my daughters and my duty towards my father and son,” Ms Ahmed says.

Palestinians gather in Al Shifa daily for hours, trying to speak to their families on the phone.

“I go to the roof of Al Shifa hospital building so we can catch some signals for the phone,” Mr Al Qudra says.

“My grandfather has a hearing impairment, so it is not good to leave him alone, especially with the devastation that was caused from the missile, water from the rain enters the house."

At one point, when the house was struck during Israeli shelling and partially destroyed, Mr Al Qudra decided to leave.

"However, I have now returned and am staying with him.”

I want to be reunited with my husband and my family
Um Mustafa, displaced Gazan

Mr Al Qudra's grandmother, Umm Mustafa, also fled her home to neighbouring Turkey.

“I am sick and the saltwater I used to drink in Gaza caused problems with my kidneys,” she says from Istanbul.

“I didn't want to leave Gaza city. I didn't want to leave my husband. But the war has shown no mercy to anyone.

“I want to be reunited with my husband and my family.”

Updated: January 14, 2024, 5:11 AM