Miami Herald (Sunday)

More people flee Rafah, fearing full-scale invasion


With fears rising that Israel will move ahead with a long-planned fullscale invasion of Rafah, the United Nations said Friday that more than 100,000 people had fled since Israel ordered people to leave parts of the city and intensifie­d a bombardmen­t that health officials in the Gaza Strip say has killed dozens of people.

As Israeli troops continued to exchange fire with Palestinia­n fighters near Rafah on Friday, according to both the Israeli military and Hamas, people using trucks, cars and donkey carts were packing up their tents and leaving the southern Gaza city and its surroundin­g areas, where more than 1 million Palestinia­ns had sought shelter.

Many of them have already been displaced multiple times —over the past seven months by Israel’s war in Gaza.

“Around 110,000 people have now fled Rafah looking for safety,” the main U.N. agency that aids Palestinia­ns, known as UNRWA, posted online Friday. On Thursday, a U.N. official said 79,000 people had left since Israel issued its evacuation order.

“The only hope is an immediate #Ceasefire,” the UNRWA statement said.

Manal Othman al-Wakeel and her extended family, who have already been displaced multiple times, fled Tuesday night and are now in an encampment in Deir al Balah in central Gaza.

Al-Wakeel, 48, who helped the aid group World Central Kitchen prepare hot meals, and her family began packing their bags and preparing to dismantle their tent Monday when Hamas announced that it had accepted a cease-fire proposal from Qatar and Egypt — but their hopes of a truce were dashed as Israel said the two sides were still far apart.

Israeli warplanes were dropping leaflets in eastern Rafah telling people to flee the area as the Israeli military bombarded the city. Health officials in Gaza say dozens of people have been killed since Israel’s incursion into parts of Rafah.

“We thought at that day a cease-fire was possible,” al-Wakeel said Thursday. She said that missiles hit the Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital near where they were. The director of the hospital, Dr. Marwan alHams, said 26 people were killed and dozens more injured.

Israel seized control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in what it called a “limited operation,” and intense fighting has continued on the eastern edge of the city since. The Israeli military said Friday that its aircraft had struck Hamas members and rocket-launching sites at several locations in the Rafah area over the past day, while Hamas said its forces had fired mortars on Israeli troops east of the city.

Israel has designated what it calls a safe zone for Palestinia­ns fleeing Rafah, including Muwasi, a coastal section of Gaza where for months it has advised people to go. But the United Nations has said it is neither safe nor equipped to receive them.

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