Gaza’s desperate civilians flee or huddle in hopes of safety, as warnings of Israeli offensive mount

Update Gaza’s desperate civilians flee or huddle in hopes of safety, as warnings of Israeli offensive mount
Palestinians fleeing from northern Gaza to the south after the Israeli army issued an unprecedented evacuation warning to a population of over 1 million people in northern Gaza and Gaza City. (AP)
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Updated 15 October 2023
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Gaza’s desperate civilians flee or huddle in hopes of safety, as warnings of Israeli offensive mount

Gaza’s desperate civilians flee or huddle in hopes of safety, as warnings of Israeli offensive mount
  • Israeli announcement said forces will allow safe movement for Gazans on two main roads south in territory between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Israeli military also said Saturday it had killed two Hamas commanders

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Desperate Palestinians scrambled for escape from northern Gaza on Saturday or huddled by the thousands at a hospital in the target zone in hopes it would be spared, as Israel intensified warnings of an imminent offensive by air, ground and sea following Hamas militants’ deadly rampage in Israel a week ago.
While workers at an Israeli military base continued efforts through the Jewish Sabbath to identify the more than 1,300 people killed in the Oct. 7 assault, Israel dropped leaflets from the air and redoubled warnings on social media for more than 1 million Gaza residents to move south.
The military says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a concentrated campaign against Hamas militants in the north, including in what it said were underground hideouts in Gaza City. Hamas urged people to stay in their homes.
The UN and aid groups say such a rapid exodus along with Israel’s siege of the territory would cause untold human suffering. The World Health Organization said the evacuation “could be tantamount to a death sentence” for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals, including newborns in incubators and people in intensive care.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis already was mounting Saturday amid a growing shortage of water and medical supplies under a week-old Israeli blockade, which has also forced electrical plants to shut down without fuel.
In Gaza City, Haifa Khamis Al-Shourafa crowded into a car with six family members, fleeing to the south in the darkness.
“We don’t deserve this,” Shourafa said, before leaving her home city. “We didn’t kill anyone.”
The evacuation directive covers an area of 1.1 million residents, or about half the territory’s population. The Israeli military said “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians had heeded the warning and headed south. It gave Palestinians a six-hour window that ended Saturday afternoon to travel safely within Gaza along two main routes.
In Israel, meanwhile, workers at a miIitary base received special rabbinical approval to continue identifying bodies of the more than 1,300 people, most civilians, killed by Hamas. Work is normally halted on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Be’eri and Kfar Azza, two southern border communities where Hamas militants slaughtered dozens of Israelis, to meet with soldiers and tour the ruins of bloodied homes. Netanyahu has faced criticism that his government has not done enough to meet with relatives of the victims.
Hundreds of relatives of the scores of Israelis and foreigners captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza gathered outside the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, demanding their release.
“This is my cry out to the world: Please help bring my family, my wife and three kids,” said Avihai Brodtz of Kfar Azza. Many expressed anger toward the government, saying they still have no information about their loved ones.
In a nationally broadcast address Saturday night, Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, accused Hamas of trying to use civilians as human shields and issued a new appeal to Gaza residents to move south.
“We are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon,” he said, without giving a timetable for the attack against the 40-kilometer-long (25-mile-long) territory.
“The Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not our enemies,” an Israeli military spokesman, John Conricus, said. “We don’t assess them as such, and we don’t target them as such. We are trying to do the right thing.”
Israel has called up some 360,000 military reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said late Saturday that the US was moving in a second carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a deterrence to any regional actors seeking to widen the war.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 5,500 rockets into Israel since the fighting erupted, the Israeli military said.
Hamas remained defiant. In a televised speech Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, a top official, said that “all the massacres” will not break the Palestinian people.
Fighting continued in the run-up to the expected offensive, with Hamas launching rockets into Israel and Israel carrying out strikes in Gaza.
An Israeli airstrike near the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza killed at least 27 people and wounded another 80, Gaza health authorities said.

Most of the victims were women and children, the authorities said. Doctors from Kamal Edwan Hospital shared chaotic footage of charred and disfigured bodies.
It was not clear how many Palestinians remained in northern Gaza by Saturday afternoon, said Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. An estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Gaza in one week, she said.
At Gaza City’s main hospital, Al-Shifa, a crowd of men, women and children that medical officials estimated at 35,000 crammed into bloodied hallways and on hospital grounds, sitting under trees as well as inside the building’s lobby, hoping to be protected from the fighting.
“People think this is the only safe space after their homes were destroyed and they were forced to flee,” said Dr. Medhat Abbas, a Health Ministry official.
Basic necessities like food, fuel and drinking water were running out because of the complete Israeli siege.
Water has stopped coming out of taps across the territory. Amal Abu Yahia, a 25-year-old pregnant mother in the Jabaliya refugee camp, said she waited anxiously for the few minutes when contaminated water trickles from the pipes in her basement. She rations it, prioritizing her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She said she is drinking so little herself, she only urinates every other day.
Near the coast, the only tap water is contaminated with Mediterranean Sea water because of the lack of sanitation facilities. Mohammed Ibrahim, 28, said his neighbors in Gaza City have taken to drinking the salt water.
The Israeli military’s evacuation order demands the territory’s entire population cram into the southern half of Gaza as Israel continues strikes, including in the south.
Rami Swailem said he and at least five families in his building decided to stay put in his apartment near Gaza City. “We are rooted in our lands,” he said. “We prefer to die in dignity and face our destiny.”
Others were looking desperately for ways to evacuate. “We need a number for drivers from Gaza to the south, it is necessary #help,” read a post on social media.
The UN refugee agency for Palestinians expressed concern for those who could not leave, “particularly pregnant women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities,” saying they must be protected. The agency also called for Israel to not target civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics and UN locations.
Al-Shifa hospital was receiving hundreds of wounded every hour and had used up 95 percent of its medical supplies, hospital director Mohammad Abu Selim said. Water is scarce and the fuel powering its generators is dwindling.
“The situation inside the hospital is miserable in every sense of the word,” he said. “The operating rooms don’t stop.”
Thousands of people crammed into UN-run schools across Gaza.
“I came here with my children. We slept on the ground. We don’t have a mattress, or clothes,” said Howeida Al-Zaaneen, 63, from the northern town of Beit Hanoun. “I want to go back to my home, even if it is destroyed.”
The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that over 2,200 people have been killed in the territory, including 724 children and 458 women. The Hamas communications office said Israel has destroyed over 7,000 housing units so far.
At Gaza’s Rafah crossing into Egypt, announcement of an agreement to briefly open the closed crossing to allow foreigners to escape brought hopeful crowds to the gates Saturday. But any deal appeared to have fallen through, with the crossing yet to open by nightfall.
Some 1,500 people in Gaza are estimated to hold Western passports, including about 500 Americans, along with citizens from other parts of the world.
A ground assault in densely populated Gaza would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh on Saturday, and both called for Israel to protect civilians in Gaza.
“As Israel pursues its legitimate right to defend its people and to trying to ensure that this never happens again, it is vitally important that all of us look out for civilians,” Blinken said.

Israel’s raids into Gaza on Friday were the first acknowledgment that Israeli troops had entered the territory since the military began its round-the-clock bombardment in retaliation for the Hamas massacre. Palestinian militants have fired more than 5,500 rockets into Israel since the fighting erupted, the Israeli military said.
Israel has called up some 360,000 military reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. A ground assault in densely populated Gaza would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.
Hamas said Israel’s airstrikes killed 22 hostages, including foreigners. It did not provide their nationalities. The Israeli military denied the claim. Hamas and other Palestinian militants hope to trade the hostages for thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry says 53 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, including 16 on Friday. The UN says attacks by Israeli settlers have surged there since the Hamas assault.
The US and Israel’s other allies have pledged ironclad support for the war on Hamas. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, however, said Saturday that the Israeli military needed to give people more time to leave northern Gaza.
“You cannot move such a volume of people in (a) short period of time,” Josep Borrell said.


Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school

Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school
Updated 8 sec ago
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Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school

Rising violence strikes fear into West Bank school
URIF: A rusty barbed wire fence towers above the students entering Urif high school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where spiralling violence since October 7 has struck fear into Palestinians.
“We tell the students ... to come to school together and not on their own, because we do not know when their (settlers) attack will be,” said Mazin Shehadeh, vice-principal for the high school located in a village south of the city of Nablus.
On the hill above the village sits the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, from where Palestinians say settlers descend to attack them.
“Every day when we arrive, we inspect the area around the school for fear that there might be explosive devices,” said the educator, whose office floor was charred black by what he said was an arson attack.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and now some 490,000 Israelis live across the Palestinian territory in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.
Palestinians have long faced harassment by settlers.

Recalling an attack on the school, one 15-year-old student said, “We were in class, and the settlers attacked us from the back of the school. They threw stones at the windows.”
“The (Israeli) soldiers were standing above, near the water tank, firing tear gas and stun grenades toward the school.”
Now the pupils fear an attack at any moment.
“At the slightest noise, at the slightest gunshot or at the slightest explosion near the town, we say to ourselves that the (Israeli) army or the settlers have attacked the school,” said Qais.
Since October 7, 519 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers or settlers, according to the health ministry in Ramallah.
More checkpoints and other Israeli military installations have been erected since the start of the war, complicating the journey to school.
“Sometimes the army harasses us, sends us tear gas bombs and sound bombs and prevents us from going to school,” said a 12-year-old student.
The school year, which ended on Wednesday, turned into “a nightmare” for Palestinian students, the United Nation’s children’s agency UNICEF has said.
Some 27.5 percent of elementary school students do not feel safe at school, according to a study by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Between October 7 and May 7, 60 children were killed in the West Bank, 345 injured and 68 schools targeted by acts of vandalism, according to the Palestinian education ministry.
It said another 125 students have been detained by the Israeli military, who when asked by AFP about the arrests said they were part of their “counter-terrorism activities“
Last week, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead while evacuating from his school by bicycle during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Even before the war, violence between communities in the West Bank near the school reached a record high.
In June 2023 two residents of Urif village, members of the armed group Hamas, killed four Israelis in an attack to the south.
In response, dozens of masked settlers could be seen in footage reviewed by AFP setting fire to a school and trees, and throwing stones at homes in the village.
In response to repeated attacks by settlers, school administrators in Urif said they had spent the equivalent of 62,500 euros on a tarpaulin to catch thrown stones and they have also installed barbed wire.
In the classrooms, thick purple curtains are drawn over barred windows, and staff run regular evacuation drills.
The violence and consequent fortifications have made students feel like they are trapped and “entering a prison,” said Shehadeh.
The school has had many of its “most hardworking and brilliant students” drop out, he added.
Others have left to help their parents, who have been without an income since Israel placed increased restrictions on Palestinians working in Israel.
Those pupils who remain only attend in-person classes three days a week and do the rest remotely due to the security concerns and the Palestinian Authority not paying teachers their full salaries.
However, not all students have the electronic devices or Internet connections needed to learn remotely, said Refat Sabbah, founder of the Teacher Creativity Center, a charity.
“In such a context, when students feel at risk at every moment, how can they learn? The psychological impact is huge on the students and the teachers,” he added.

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency
Updated 11 min 23 sec ago
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Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

Israel sent messages to Tehran to avoid Iranian response to embassy attack — agency

TEHRAN: Israel sent messages to Tehran via Egypt that it would “compromise” in Gaza to avert an Iranian response to an attack on Iran’s embassy in Syria, the Tasnim news agency reported.
The Iranian news agency’s report cited the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force.
Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in April in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike for what it said was an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate, in which seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed.
“Israel sent messages through Egypt’s foreign minister that it will compromise in the war in Gaza to avoid Iran’s retaliation,” Amirali Hajjizadeh said.


Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
Updated 25 min 26 sec ago
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Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor

Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor
  • The attack Tuesday on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier that came under attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia earlier this week had a cargo of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor, authorities said Thursday.
The attack on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor, part of a campaign they say aims at pressuring Israel and the West over the war in Gaza. However, as shipping through that artery has dropped during the months of attacks, the militia have struck vessels associated with Iran, as well as Tehran’s economic lifelines of China and Russia.
Initially after the attack, the Laax had listed its destination as Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. On Thursday, however, its listed destination instead appeared to be Bandar Khomeini, Iran.
A statement released by French naval forces based in the UAE that patrol the Middle East also identified the vessel’s grain shipment as being bound for Iran. It said that a team from Djibouti had inspected the damage caused by the attack, which it said involved both drones and missiles, and found no remaining dangerous explosives onboard the ship.
Images released by the French navy showed damage both at the waterline of the vessel, as well as on its deck.
Tuesday’s attack saw five missiles hit the Laax during the hourslong assault, the private security firm LSS-SAPU told The Associated Press. LSS-SAPU, which earlier helped evacuate mariners from the Houthi-attacked Rubymar that later sunk, said there had been no prior warning by radio from the Houthis.
LSS-SAPU had three armed security guards onboard the Laax at the time of the attack. Among the ship’s crew were 13 Filipinos and one Ukrainian, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.
The Houthis in recent months have stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding that Israel end the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.
On Wednesday, another US MQ-9 Reaper drone apparently crashed in Yemen, with the Houthis claiming they fired a surface-to-air missile at it. The US Air Force didn’t report any aircraft missing, leading to suspicion that the drone may have been piloted by the CIA. As many as three may have been lost this month alone.


Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
Updated 30 May 2024
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Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
  • Universities in the US were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised university students in the United States for their protests over the rising death toll in the war in Gaza.
“You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front,” said Khamenei, referring to Tehran-aligned armed groups across the Middle East arrayed against arch-foe Israel which is also known as the Axis of Resistance.
“As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it,” he said in a letter published on his official website on Thursday.
Universities in the United States were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people.
The demonstrations began at Columbia University in New York and later spread across the country as well as to Europe and elsewhere.
Tehran has reiterated support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip.
The assault resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry
Regional tensions have since soared, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Tit-for-tat escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel last month.


Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
Updated 30 May 2024
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Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
  • The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there

RAFAH: Rafah residents reported intense artillery shelling and gunfire Thursday in Gaza’s far-southern city after Israel said it had seized a strategic corridor on the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.
The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
A strike over the weekend that started a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels.”
Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Israeli operation, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ landmark 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.
On a visit in Beijing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on Thursday for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war, as he hosted Arab leaders including El-Sisi.
On the ground in the Gaza Strip, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces had demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.


An AFP correspondent reported artillery and gunfire in Gaza City’s southern neighborhood of Zeitun, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.
A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported late Wednesday that two of its paramedics “were killed as a result of the Israeli occupation’s direct bombing” of an ambulance near Rafah.
The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing fire which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.
Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.
In the wake of the strike, Algeria presented a draft UN resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, but it was not clear when it would be put to a vote.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
He also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine.”
Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognize the State of Palestine this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said it should take place at a “useful moment.”
Israel’s has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale Rafah offensive because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines.”
The New York Times and CNN, citing weapons experts and analysis of video from the scene of the weekend Rafah strike, reported that the bomb believed to have started the fatal fire was a US-made GBU-39 guided munition.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”