Besieged Gazans face bombardment and hardship

GAZA (Reuters) – As Israeli troops push further into Gaza’s densely populated towns under increasing bombardment, beleaguered Palestinian civilians wake up each morning to retrieve bodies from the rubble of airstrikes and begin their daily search for food and clean water .

In the northern part of the tiny, crowded enclave, which is cut off from the south by Israel’s ground offensive and has no access routes for supplies, airstrikes in recent days have wreaked havoc on refugee camps, attacked ambulances and hit shelters in schools.

Israel’s stated military goal is to destroy the Palestinian militant group Hamas after its fighters rampaged through Israeli cities on October 7, going from house to house, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping another 240.

Since then, Israeli air and artillery strikes in Gaza have killed 9,488 people, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel has cut off electricity and fuel deliveries, but is only allowing a fraction of food and medicine.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and ambulances to hide its rocket launchers and command centers, and says the group has enough food and fuel supplies to meet the population’s needs. Hamas has denied all of this.

“Imagine being in a prison and from a high tower the prison guards are targeting prisoners one by one and killing them one by one,” said 43-year-old Ismail, an accountant in Gaza City he felt under the bombardment.

“My father almost had a heart attack last night when a rocket attack rocked the building. We felt like we were hit,” said Ismail, who did not give his name for fear of Israeli reprisals.

Hundreds of foreign passport holders and some seriously injured people were able to leave Gaza last week via the Rafah border crossing from the south of the enclave into Egypt. However, the border crossing was closed on Saturday and not reopened, leaving civilians with no escape route.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, called for safe passage for 400 seriously injured people to leave Gaza via Rafah, saying hospitals had almost exhausted their last fuel supplies.

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

However, Israeli airstrikes continued to devastate the south and hundreds of thousands of people remained in the north. Some pointed to the cramped conditions in the south, while others said they feared they would ever be prevented from returning home.

As Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip a week ago, dividing the area 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, the Israeli military said it would allow civilians to leave Gaza City south along the main highway for three hours, but Reuters was unable to locate anyone who had done so.

Several Gaza City residents Reuters spoke to said they were too scared to attempt the crossing. Some pointed to recent reports of deaths on major roads connecting the south to the north.

“I want to at least send my family to the south and hope they can get to Egypt via Rafah, but I’m not sure I can. I’m afraid their car might be shot at by Israeli tanks on the way,” said Abu Tamer. At the Jabalia refugee camp next to Gaza City, he refused to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

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

An airstrike on the Maghazi refugee camp in the center of the enclave killed 40 people, according to local health authorities. Saeed al-Nejma, 53, said he was sleeping with his family in their one-story house when the blast hit his neighborhood.

“All night long, I and the other men tried to pick up the dead from the rubble. We have children, cut up, torn flesh,” he said.

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

In the Jabalia camp near Gaza City there is only one bakery left, flour is in short supply and fresh water has to be pumped from ground reserves, but there is no fuel to power the electricity generators needed, said resident Abu Tamer.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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