Once again, thousands of displaced Palestinians escape Rafah to central Gaza

Once again, thousands of displaced Palestinians escape Rafah to central Gaza
Awadallah, who lost 20 members of his family, told TNA, "I will not allow Israel to displace us from our land (...) I would rather die in Gaza..."
6 min read
13 February, 2024
Residents inspect the heavily damaged Al-Huda Mosque as a result of Israeli attacks on Rafah, Gaza on 12 February 2024. [Getty]

After a terrifying night, dozens of trucks loaded with displaced Palestinians headed to the central region and the coastal strip of the city of Khan Yunis to escape death and destruction in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army announced that it had "succeeded" in releasing two Israeli hostages who were being held in a residential building in the city of Rafah during a combined attack carried out by the Israeli army and the Israeli Shin Bet, in cooperation with the air force, a naval division and another armoured vehicle. The Israeli operation killed tens of Palestinians civilians. 

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the Israeli "complex" operation lasted for an hour, and the goal was to recover two elderly prisoners who were captured from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak near Rafah.

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"Israeli forces secretly arrived at the building located in the heart of the city of Rafah, where the two hostages were located on the second floor. They were recovered after clashes with Hamas members, some of whom were killed and were members of the Shaboura Brigade," the Israeli newspaper claimed. 

"The Israeli forces opened the closed door of the building using an explosive device and opened fire on nearby points and succeeded in rescuing the two captives. At this stage, the gunfire came from the building and neighbouring buildings, and a long battle took place during which dozens of Hamas targets were attacked from the air to allow the force to leave the building," the newspaper added. 

Separately speaking to The New Arab, Palestinian eyewitnesses said that they lived through another horrific night of continual Israeli bombing and the sound of violent armed clashes between Israeli army forces and Palestinian armed resistance groups in the area.

"The situation in Rafah has become catastrophic", local Palestinians said to TNA, with many expressing immense fears that the Israeli army will carry out a large-scale military attack on the city bordering with Egypt soon. 

The Israeli threats prompted Mohammed al-Absi, a displaced Palestinian from Gaza City, to flee once again towards the city of Deir al-Balah in the central of the beseiged coastal enclave, despite his fears that he was heading towards a dangeorous "unknown fate".

"We do not know where we are going or where we will live in the coming days (...) For the fifth month, we are living an unknown fate (...) We do not know whether we will live and tell our stories to the world or whether we will die and remain just a memory," Al-Absi said to TNA

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"The world looks at our suffering in silence without taking real actions that force Israel to stop its madness and its war against us in Gaza. The situation is catastrophic here, and we do not possess any necessities of human life," he added. 

Al-Absi expressed his fears that the war would continue with no end and that the Palestinians would remain stuck in uncertainty without any political solution between Hamas and Israel that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire in the besieged coastal enclave.

For her part, Samiha Abu Shanab has no choice but to be displaced again and is seeking to head to the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip following Israel's threats to launch a military operation in Rafah.

"I lived the experience of being displaced under Israeli fire along the Salah al-Din Road, which the Israeli army claimed was safe. There, the army killed two of my brothers and my son in cold blood without verifying that they were mere civilians," the 42-year-old middle-aged woman said to TNA

"I do not want to lose more of my family in this war, in which Israel has not shown mercy to any of us in Gaza. Israel continues to kill us, assault our rights and deliberately insult us in the Gaza Strip. We are civilians who do not possess any weapons, but we are trying to escape death through displacement," she added. 

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Reports have increased about an imminent Israeli military operation in the city of Rafah, despite the continuation of negotiations between Israel and Hamas regarding reaching a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip.

Displaced Palestinians do not rule out that the Israeli army will seek to push them to cross the border into Egypt, in a plan that Cairo has long warned against and stated that it threatens diplomatic relations with Israel.

Asaad Abu Shakra, a displaced person from Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip, told TNA, "I was forced to leave my home and my possessions and move towards the south to find safety for my family, and I will continue to do so until the war ends."

In an attempt to save his children from death, Abu Shakra does not rule out crossing the Egyptian border and fleeing towards Sinai. 

"If Israel wants to force us to move to Egypt, this means that it has prepared a plan in advance and that it has obtained American and perhaps Arab approval to implement its displacement plans," he remarked. 

"What can we do about Israeli and American crime? We are just civilians and victims, and I have to save myself and my family even if I flee to Sinai." he added. 

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Ismail Awadallah, a displaced Palestinian from Gaza City, prefers to flee again towards northern Gaza instead of heading to Sinai. Awadallah, who lost 20 members of his family, told TNA, "I will not allow Israel to displace us from our land (...) I would rather die in Gaza than immigrate under Israeli orders."

"Every beginning has an end... The war will end one day, and we will rebuild our city and prove to the world again that we can live regardless of the circumstances," he added. 

Fatima Salama, a displaced person from Gaza City to Rafah, lives in a state of anxiety that has overwhelmed her family. They are currently sheltered in one of the UNRWA schools in Al-Shaboura camp, which has experienced an increasing frequency of Israeli strike getting closer.

"It seems that the situation here in Rafah is more dangerous, and I do not know where to go with my family should go (...) In previous displacement experiences, we were moving from areas targeted by the Israeli army to others relatively far from bombing and raids, but currently, the entire Gaza Strip is under bombardment, and Rafah is the only city that we thought would  be safe," she said to TNA

Last Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army to prepare to evacuate the city of Rafah and develop a plan to evacuate civilians and defeat Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement.

Netanyahu's office claimed, "The war goal of eliminating Hamas and keeping four Hamas battalions in Rafah cannot be achieved. It is clear that a large-scale operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from combat zones."

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"For this reason, the Prime Minister directed the Israeli army and the security establishment to present a dual plan to the war government to evacuate the population and destroy the battalions affiliated with the Hamas movement," the statement noted. 

Since the start of the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip, which followed the massive attack led by Hamas militants on Israeli military bases and civilian settlements within and around the "Gaza envelope" on 7 October, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced to the city of Rafah.

About 1.5 million people are crowded into the small city, most of whom are in modest tents amid extremely low temperatures and extremely harsh conditions, even though its population before the war did not exceed 320,000 people.