Besieged Gaza residents face bombardment and hardship

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Palestinians look on, next to a damaged road, after an Israeli raid, in Jenin refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 5, 2023. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta

 As Israeli troops push further into dense Gaza townships under an intensifying bombardment, besieged Palestinian civilians wake each morning to pull bodies from the rubble of air strikes and begin their daily search for food and clean water.

In the northern section of the tiny, crowded enclave, cut off from the south by Israel’s ground offensive and with no access routes for supplies, air strikes have caused devastation in refugee camps, targeted ambulances and hit shelters in schools in recent days.

Israel’s stated military objective is to destroy the militant Palestinian group Hamas after its fighters rampaged through Israeli towns on Oct. 7, going house to house as they killed 1,400 people and abducted another 240.

Since then, Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza have killed 9,488 people, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says. Israel has cut off electricity and fuel supplies, while allowing in only a trickle of food and medicine.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian infrastructure including hospitals and ambulances to conceal its rocket launchers and command centres and says the group holds enough food and fuel supplies to meet the population’s needs. Hamas has denied all that.

“Imagine you are in a prison and the prison guards are taking aim at one prisoner after another from a high tower, killing them one by one,” said Ismail, 43, an accountant in Gaza City describing how he felt under the bombardment.

“My father almost had a heart attack last night when a missile strike shook the building. We felt it was us being hit,” said Ismail, who did not give his name for fear of Israeli reprisals.

Hundreds of foreign passport holders and some critically injured people were able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing from the south of the enclave into Egypt over the past week. However, the crossing closed on Saturday and has not reopened, leaving no escape route for civilians.

Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, called for safe passage for 400 critically injured people to leave Gaza through Rafah and said hospitals had almost exhausted their last fuel supplies.

FEAR

Israel last month ordered all Palestinians in the north of the enclave including Gaza City to move to the south, telling them they risked being taken for militants if they did not leave.

However, Israeli airstrikes continued to batter the south as well and hundreds of thousands of people remained in the north, some pointing to the cramped conditions in the south, others saying they feared being barred from ever returning home.

As Israeli ground troops entered Gaza a week ago, cutting the territory in two and surrounding Gaza City and nearby refugee camps, conditions in the north have worsened with more intense bombardment and acute shortages.

On Saturday Israel’s military said it would allow civilians to leave Gaza City by the main road southwards for three hours, but Reuters was unable to locate any people who had done so.

Several Gaza City residents Reuters did speak to said they were too frightened to attempt the crossing, with some pointing to recent accounts of deaths on the main roads connecting south and north.

“I want at least to send my family to the south and hope they can cross into Egypt through Rafah but I’m not sure I can. I am afraid their car might be shelled by Israeli tanks on the road,” said Abu Tamer in Jabalia refugee camp adjacent to Gaza City, refusing to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

On Sunday, Israeli ground forces were also operating in the central part of the enclave, to the south of the Wadi Gaza line below which they had ordered all civilians to evacuate.

An air strike on Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of the enclave killed 40 people according to local health authorities. Saeed al-Nejma, 53, said he had been asleep with his family in their single-storey house when the blast hit his neighbourhood.

“All night I and the other men were trying to pick the dead from the rubble. We got children, dismembered, torn apart flesh,” he said.

Strikes destroyed the water tower in Maghazi at a time when clean water supplies were already incredibly scarce said Hassan Abu Mashayekh, 63, a camp resident.

In the Jabalia camp near Gaza City, only one bakery still operates, flour is scarce and fresh water must be pumped from ground reserves but there is no fuel to power the electricity generators needed to do so, the resident Abu Tamer said.

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