With makeshift white flags in hand, dozens of Palestinians fled on Tuesday from the north of the Gaza Strip, where fierce fighting is taking place between the Israeli army and Hamas, to go to the south of the Palestinian territory.
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“It was so scary,” Ola el-Ghul, a Palestinian displaced by this war which entered its second month on Tuesday, told AFP.
“We held hands and continued walking,” she said. “There were so many of us. We held white flags. It’s true that we were afraid, but ultimately we managed to get through,” she added.
The Israeli army again called on Monday, in leaflets dropped from planes, for civilians to leave northern Gaza for the south.
AFP videos show many people, including children, walking, often with only a small bag, towards the south of the Gaza Strip. Some make the trip on a cart pulled by a donkey. Others are in wheelchairs.
Israeli bombings have caused the displacement of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, a poor territory of 2.4 million inhabitants, according to the UN. Lately, between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians were still present in northern Gaza, according to the UN.
“We arrived in the south on foot from central Gaza. I didn’t think it would be this long,” explains Amira Al-Sakani, hugging one of her young children.
She says she saw “bodies of martyrs” on the way, a term which refers to Palestinians killed in the context of the conflict with Israel, “some in pieces”.
More than 10,300 people, including more than 4,000 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in incessant bombardments by the Israeli army.
This war between Israel and Hamas was triggered by the bloody attack of the Palestinian Islamist movement on October 7 on Israeli soil, in which more than 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians.
In retaliation, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army launched a ground operation on October 27.
The bombings are hitting civilians hard, including in the south of the territory, also subject to a siege that has deprived them of water, food and electricity since October 9 – after already a blockade of more than 16 years, since he coming to power in 2007 of Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
According to the Hamas health ministry, nearly 3,600 people have died in southern and central Gaza.
Many of these displaced people told AFP about the difficulty of reaching a region where they hope to be safer.
Haitham Noureddine said he walked four kilometers with his mother and other family members to the Bureij refugee camp in the center of the territory and saw decomposing bodies along the way. The family left their home in Gaza City near Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, due to heavy shelling in the area.
“The situation is horrible, the situation is not humane, the situation is catastrophic,” says another displaced person, Motaz El-Ajala.
Hatim Abu Riash claims to have been afraid while walking near the Israeli soldiers.
“Near the soldiers, near the weapons, near the tanks (…), it was really horrible,” said this man who fled the Jabalyia refugee camp in the north, which was bombed several times.
“We are not terrorists, we are civilians. We want to live in peace,” he said.
But the distress is not limited to northern Gaza. In the center and south of the territory, more than 550,000 people are housed in 92 centers managed by the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA).
In one of these centers, more than 600 people have to share a toilet, according to this agency.