800,000 Palestinians forced to flee Rafah since start of Israeli operation, says UN - GulfToday

800,000 Palestinians forced to flee Rafah since start of Israeli operation, says UN


Palestinian children carrying their belongings arrive in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip to seek shelter on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (Photo by AFP)

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said on Saturday that 800,000 people had been "forced to flee" Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah since Israel began military operations there this month.

"Nearly half of the population of Rafah or 800,000 people are on the road having been forced to flee since the Israeli forces started the military operation in the area on May 6," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said in a post on social media site X.

Following the evacuation orders Gazans have fled to "the middle areas and Khan Younis including to destroyed buildings," he said.

"Every time, they are forced to leave behind the few belongings they have ....Every time, they have to start from scratch, all over again." Lazzarini said people were fleeing to areas without water supplies or adequate sanitation.

Al Mawasi, a 14 square kilometre town on the coast, as well as the central city of Deir El-Balah, were "crammed" with recently displaced people, Lazzarini added.

Rafah-flee-family A young girl rides a bicycle as people walk past garbage piled up near tents set up by displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis. AFP

Meanwhile, heavy clashes and bombardment rocked Rafah on Saturday, as Israel pressed an assault against Hamas. A reporter said air strikes and artillery shells pounded eastern parts of the city as warplanes criss-crossed above.

More than 10 days into what the army called a "limited" operation in Rafah that sparked an exodus of Palestinians, fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians has also flared again in northern Gaza.

Hamas slammed what it called Israel's "intensified brutal raids" on Jabalia, saying they had killed dozens of civilians and wounded hundreds more while targeting schools and shelters.

"The escalating crimes of the occupation will not succeed in breaking the will of our brave resistance or in deterring our proud people from their decision to stand firm on their land," it said.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory's health ministry. The toll includes at least 83 deaths over the past 24 hours, said a ministry statement on Saturday.

With key land crossings closed or operating at limited capacity due to the fighting, some relief supplies began flowing into Gaza via a temporary, floating pier constructed by the United States.

The Israeli army said 310 pallets began moving ashore in "the first entry of humanitarian aid through the floating pier."

Satellite pictures taken on Saturday showed more than a dozen trucks lining up on the approach road to the pier. In the coming days, around 500 tonnes of aid are expected to be delivered to Gaza through the pier, according to US Central Command.

US military officials anticipate the pier operation could reach 150 truckloads a day. Risks include attacks, logistical hurdles and a growing shortage of fuel. But UN agencies and humanitarian aid groups have warned sea or air deliveries cannot replace far more efficient truck convoys into Gaza, where the United Nations has repeatedly warned of looming famine.

The European Union welcomed the first shipment from Cyprus to the Gaza pier, but called on Israel to "expand deliveries by land and to immediately open additional crossings."

On the diplomatic front, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was heading to the region for weekend talks.


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