Gaza war: UNRWA shelters in Rafah 'empty' as displaced Palestinians flee Israeli onslaught

Gaza war: UNRWA shelters in Rafah 'empty' as displaced Palestinians flee Israeli onslaught
Israel's military campaign in Rafah, in violation an ICJ order, has forced Palestinians to flee Rafah's UNRWA shelters and search for safety elsewhere.
3 min read
03 June, 2024
UNRW shelters have been under constant threat by Israel throughout its onslaught in Gaza [Getty/file photo]

All 36 UNRWA shelters in Rafah are now empty as most Palestinians who sought refuge in Gaza's southern city have fled, the Palestinian refugee agency said on Sunday.

In a statement on X, UNRWA said that military operations carried out by Israel have "forced thousands of families to flee", in the wake of Israel’s assault on the city, which began in early May, carried out in violation of an International Court of Justice order requesting a halt.

At least 1.7 million Palestinians are now sheltering in Khan Younis and the central areas of Gaza, the agency said.

The two areas were subject to brutal Israeli military air campaigns throughout the war, with several cities and residential areas flattened by strikes, resulting in limited access to food, water and other basic necessities.

"More than 1 million people - most displaced several times – forced to flee once again, in search of safety that they never find," UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Sunday, adding that many of those displaced had fled several times throughout the war.

A UNRWA source told The New Arab's Arabic-language site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that "the agency’s workspaces have been greatly restricted", with 80 percent of its Gaza shelters becoming "difficult to reach" due to dangerous conditions.

At least 189 of the agency's employees have been killed since the war began on 7 October, which has killed at least 36,479 Palestinians as of Monday, mostly women and children.

Rafah was once home to over 1.4 million displaced Palestinians who fled from all over Gaza to escape Israeli bombardment.

The city, which borders Egypt, was also designated as a "safe zone" by Israel, as it carried out its onslaughts in the enclave.

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The city has been subject to multiple massacres in recent weeks. On May 26, Israeli forces struck the Tel al-Sultan camp for the displaced, killing at least 45 Palestinians. The bombing, targeting tents near a warehouse belonging to UNRWA, set the camp ablaze, burning several residents alive. Horrifying images of charred bodies and dismembered children prompted global outcry.

Just a few days later, on 28 May, Israel carried out another massacre in Rafah, when Israeli shelling hit another camp for displaced people in al-Mawasi, killing at least 21 Palestinians.

Palestinians are increasingly in need of UNRWA’s services amid the devastating war in Gaza with Israel.

Homes have been destroyed, while regular employment and education have been forced to come to a halt since.

Over the years, Israel has threatened to close UNRWA's headquarters in the Palestinian territories.

In January, Israel alleged that a number of the agency's staff members took part in Hamas’ attacks on Israel on 7 October, although it failed to provide strong evidence backing such claims.

Last week, the country's parliament passed a preliminary vote on a bill that would designate the UN agency as a "terrorist" organisation.

The move has drawn condemnation from several Arab states, as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Qatar, one of the key mediating nations between Israel and Hamas, called it a "systematic campaign aimed at dismantling the agency at a time when the need for its humanitarian services is dire" due to the ongoing war in Gaza.