Around 1.9 million people are estimated to be internally displaced in the Gaza Strip, while hundreds of thousands are struggling to find refuge in the overcrowded south amid Israel’s ruthless bombardment.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), over 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been internally displaced, with most having traveled to the south of the strip after being ordered to evacuate the north.
People sheltering in Khan Younis in the densely populated south of Gaza are facing the impossible decision of whether to evacuate yet again or risk death or injury by staying in the city as it comes under intense bombardment.
Israel had said the south would be safe. But long before Israeli forces launched its operation in the area, several neighborhoods were repeatedly hit with regular shelling over the last few weeks, according to Al Arabiya.
Evacuation orders have now been issued by the Israeli military for an area covering 20 percent of Khan Younis city, international NGO ActionAid said in a statement to Al Arabiya English.
The city was home to 117,000 people before the crisis and now hosts an additional 50,000 internally displaced across 21 shelters.
People living in a further area east of the city, encompassing 19 percent of Gaza, have also been told to leave and go south to Rafah or other designated locations, the organization told Al Arabiya English.
“Today I am running from one place to another. I have been displaced six times, trying to protect my children from death which follows us everywhere,” ActionAid quoted Gaza resident Yara, a mother and humanitarian worker, as saying in its statement.
“I was displaced to the south at the request of the Israeli occupying forces because they said that it was safer in the south. Unfortunately, the bombing also hit us, even during our car trip... We moved from [north] Gaza to the south. It was a journey of death. The bombing was around us, we could not believe it.”
The army had airdropped thousands of leaflets with QR codes indicating which places are supposedly safe. However, with limited or no internet, the majority of Gazans are unable to scan the codes.
The Commissioner-General of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Monday warned that Israel was “repeating horrors from past weeks” by launching a new bombing campaign on the south.
“We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza, whether in the south, or the southwest, whether in Rafah or in any unilaterally so-called ‘safe zone’,” Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.
People sheltering in the south are already living in near impossible conditions without sufficient water, food or warm clothes, and with vital infrastructure on the brink of collapse, according to ActionAid.
Cramming more people into an even smaller area will only increase their misery, as well as the risk of disease, causing an even greater humanitarian disaster.
“Tens of thousands of people have already left behind their homes in the north and been displaced multiple times, facing extreme danger to travel to the south of Gaza where they thought they would be safe. But nowhere in Gaza in safe,” Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine said.
“People sheltering in Khan Younis and other areas of the south are yet again trying to survive relentless bombing while living in desperate conditions. Now they are expected to move, again. Where are they supposed to go? How can they believe that anywhere in Gaza is safe?” Jafari added.
Only a very limited amount of aid has entered the strip since the temporary pause in hostilities ended on Friday, and due to intense fighting, much of it has not been able to reach those in need.
In Khan Younis, aid distribution was mostly stopped on Sunday due to the heavy bombardment, aid workers have said.
Wala, a youth volunteer with ActionAid Palestine, said: “In reality, there is no safe place. Not in Gaza nor the south, there’s bombing everywhere. If you were lucky enough to arrive at the camps, you’ll live in a tent that will not shelter you from the heat of the day, nor the cold at night.”
“It is a tragedy. A disaster in every sense of the word. Thousands of displaced people with nothing at all. No food, no water. Nothing to cover their bodies. Nothing at all… So, if the bombing doesn’t kill them, many other things will; the cold, hunger, thirst, or simply the horrible reality we are living.”
Calls for a ceasefire
ActionAid has called for a permanent ceasefire to ensure the safety of millions of Gazans who are struggling to survive amid dire conditions.
UNRWA’s Lazzarini has also called on Israel to reopen border crossings to allow for the delivery of sufficient supplies of aid, food, water, and fuel.
“We call on the State of Israel to reopen Kerem Shalom and other crossings and facilitate the unconditional, uninterrupted and meaningful delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance. The failure to do so violates international humanitarian law,” he said in his December 4 statement.
“The end of the humanitarian pause has already brought further suffering, loss and grief to civilians wherever they are. We call for a humanitarian ceasefire”.
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