Israel fights Hamas in Gaza's Jabalia as civilians in Rafah fear attack

Palestinians in Gaza say they hope war ends soon and fear being displaced yet again

Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. EFA
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Israeli forces fought against Hamas at Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza overnight on Friday as Palestinian civilians in Rafah said they had nowhere left to flee if Israel intensified its offensive on the southern city.

At least 15 people were killed in Israeli air strikes on the camp on Saturday, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported, after Israeli tanks and ground troops fought battles with militants in the narrow alleyways of Gaza's largest refugee camp on Friday.

Israel launched its operation in Jabalia a week ago. It had previously announced it had cleared the area of Hamas fighters in the camp, but clashes have since resumed.

As the fighting raged, the US military said aid was being moved from ships to Gaza's shore using a temporary pier built by American service personnel.

The floating platform was built as part of efforts to deliver more supplies to civilians in the besieged enclave.

“No US troops went ashore in Gaza,” said US Central Command.

The pier was anchored on Thursday, with about 500 tonnes of aid expected to enter the enclave in the coming days.

The World Food Programme, which expects more food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

Gaza is in need of vast amounts of aid after more than seven months of war sparked by the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel that killed more than 1,200.

Vast areas of the densely populated enclave have been reduced to ruins, with more than 35,300 Palestinians killed and almost 80,000 wounded, according to the enclave's Health Ministry.

Rafah civilians trapped

In southern Gaza, Israeli forces also continued their operations on the outskirts of Rafah.

Two civilians were killed an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah on Friday night, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Israeli artillery also struck the east and centre of Rafah, Wafa said, quoting local sources.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to take the fight into the city, where Israel says Hamas has four remaining battalions.

Some of the remaining hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 are also believed to be held in the city.

About 1.5 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people had been sheltering in Rafah before Israel began its offensive against the city this month. Before the war began in October, the city had an estimated population of about 300,000, but it had since swelled as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled fighting in northern Gaza.

Since Israel announced it was attacking Rafah and issued evacuation orders for civilians in some areas of the city, an estimated 600,000 people have fled.

Some civilians still in the city told The National they did not want to flee again.

Kholod Sleem, 34, came to Rafah's Tal Al Sultan area after being displaced from Gaza city in the north.

"I came here following the instructions, and Tal Al Sultan was supposed to be a safe area," Ms Sleem said.

"It was difficult for us to move to a completely unfamiliar place, but we chose to live here to protect our children from the intense shelling in Gaza."

"Now, with the latest threats from the Israeli army to invade Rafah, we are confused and don't know what to do. Am I making the right decision by staying, or should I leave?"

Most areas are now crowded and facing problems with water and electricity, she added.

"If I decide to leave, we need to find a place that has life necessities so we can survive," she said

"I hope this war will end soon, and I can return to my home in Gaza [city]."

Hanna Al Habash, 22, said she had already been displaced several times before reaching Rafah.

"I didn't want to leave for the south, but when the Israeli army called us, we couldn't stay in Gaza. They know how to affect you and make you afraid," she told The National.

Ms Al Habash was forced to move twice in Gaza city, then to Khan Younis, and finally to Rafah City in the south of the Gaza Strip.

"We are not only facing difficulties in finding a safe place, but also in living life," she said.

"The prices are so high, water is not available all the time, and using the bathroom requires planning. This is not a life.

"The Israeli army could reach us anytime without giving any statement about their intentions.

"If we have to leave, we need to buy a tent, and it's too expensive. We can't afford it. I hope the war ends soon, and we can go back to Gaza."

Laith Wijdan, 29, was also forced to flee several times.

His home in Gaza city was destroyed six days into the war in October. He then went to his brother's home in Sheikh Ridwan, before ending up at Al Shifa hospital, which was left in ruins after Israeli forces repeatedly raided the medical complex.

Mr Wijdan then went south and ended up in Rafah.

"Now, where should we go? Rafah is our last destination. What is the next step?" Mr Wijdan told The National.

There is no safe place now, in Rafah or anywhere else, he said.

"Building a tent would cost a lot, and I can’t afford it. I'm not working now, and everything is expensive," Mr Wijdan added.

"I want to build a tent over the rubble of my home in Gaza, not anywhere else."

Updated: May 18, 2024, 12:30 PM