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5 Dec, 2023 12:30

Gazans running out of safe places – UN official

The humanitarian situation is “worsening by the hour” as Israel escalates its offensive, according to the agency’s chief in the enclave
Gazans running out of safe places – UN official

Palestinians in Gaza have been left with virtually nowhere to go as the Israeli army continues its offensive in the enclave following the end of a truce with Hamas, a UN official has said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is shifting its focus to the southern part of Gaza and has urged the population to evacuate. However, Palestinians and human rights groups have condemned the move after the area was initially declared a safe zone when Israel launched retaliatory strikes following the Hamas attack of October 7.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), Thomas White, said on Monday that “people are pleading for advice on where to find safety. We have nothing to tell them.”

According to media reports, heavy fighting has taken place near the largest city in southern Gaza, Khan Younis, around 10km from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The IDF warned Gazans on Monday that some areas in the north and east of Khan Younis are “extremely dangerous,” offering them a way to a reach refugee camp in the Rafah district.

The same day, White said the humanitarian situation “worsens by the hour” as another wave of displacement was underway and the roads leading toward the border crossing were “clogged with cars and donkey carts.” He added that even in Rafah “the sound of airstrikes punctuates the day.” 

The UN official declared on Tuesday that Rafah, which normally has a population of 280,000, “will not cope” with the influx as it is already hosting around 470,000 displaced persons. Meanwhile, Palestinian telecom provider PalTel announced “a complete disruption of communication services” in Gaza due to Israeli bombing.

The company later reported that services in the central and southern regions of the enclave were gradually being restored “after being cut off from the Israeli side.”

IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari earlier said Israeli troops will “operate in maximum force against Hamas terrorists and infrastructures while minimizing harm to the civilians that Hamas places around them as shields.” He added that Israel was “pursuing Hamas in southern Gaza” as it did in the northern part of the enclave.

The latest updates from the Palestinian Health Ministry put the death toll in Gaza at around 15,900 people. Unnamed Israeli officials described the figures as accurate and confirmed that more civilians had been killed than Hamas operatives, AP reported.

The official death toll of Israeli victims stands at around 1,200 since the conflict escalated. As of Monday, 401 Israeli soldiers had been killed, according to Haaretz. Israel says 137 hostages remain in Gaza, while 108 were freed by Hamas in exchange for the release of Palestinian detainees during a week-long ceasefire.

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