Backs to the fence, Gazans fear Israeli attack on last refuge

February 3, 2024 8:20 am

A displaced Palestinian woman tries to get internet signal to communicate with her relatives [Source: Reuters]

Israeli forces shelled the outskirts of the last refuge on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip on Friday, where the displaced population, penned against the border fence in their hundreds of thousands, feared a new assault with nowhere left to flee.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now homeless and crammed into Rafah. Tens of thousands more have arrived in recent days, carrying belongings in their arms and pulling children on carts, since Israeli forces last week launched one of the biggest assaults of the war to capture adjacent Khan Younis, the main southern city.

If the Israeli tanks keep coming, “we will be left with two choices: stay and die or climb the walls into Egypt”, said Emad, 55, a businessman and father of six, reached on a mobile phone chat app.

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Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that troops would now turn to Rafah, which along with Deir al-Balah just north of Khan Younis is among the last areas not taken in an almost four-month-old assault.

As the only part of Gaza with access to the limited food and medical aid trickling across the border, Rafah and nearby parts of Khan Younis have become a warren of makeshift tents, clogged by winter mud. Wind and cold add to the misery, blowing tents down or flooding them and the ground in-between.

With phone service mostly absent across Gaza, residents climbed a sandy berm at the border fence and crouched beside the razor wire hoping for an Egyptian mobile signal. Mariam Odeh was trying to get a message to family still in Khan Younis, “to tell them we are still alive and not martyrs like the others”.