- By Adam Durbin and Alys Davies
- BBC News
A Palestinian doctor in Rafah said people were terrified by the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza’s southernmost town, after one of the worst nights of airstrikes he had seen since he arrived there. down.
In a series of messages sent to the BBC on Monday, Dr Ahmed Abuibaid described the airstrikes as incessant and everywhere.
“(The) most common question on people’s minds is: Where can we go?” he said.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now crowded into the border town with Egypt, which was home to just 250,000 residents before the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in October.
Many displaced people live in makeshift shelters or tents in squalid conditions, with limited access to clean water or food.
UN human rights chief Volker Türk warned that an attack on Rafah would be “terrifying, given the likelihood that an extremely high number of civilians, again mainly children and women , are killed and injured”.
He also said it could mean the “meager” humanitarian aid arriving in Gaza could cease, with most deliveries currently passing through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing.
His warning followed unusually sharp criticism from the United States last week, with President Joe Biden calling Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza “over-the-top.” On Monday, Mr. Biden said Israeli operations in Rafah “should not continue without a credible plan to ensure the safety” of civilians.
Speaking after a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Mr Biden also said the US was working on a ceasefire agreement lasting “at least six weeks”.
British Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday urged Israel’s allies to stop sending weapons because “too many people” were being killed in Gaza.
“Victory is within our reach,” he said. “Those who say we should not enter Rafah under any circumstances are basically saying: ‘lose the war, keep Hamas there.’”
The Israeli military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7 and took 253 others hostage.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says more than 28,100 Palestinians have been killed in fighting since then.
One of those displaced in Rafah is Dr Abuibaid, who was forced to abandon his job at Nasser Hospital in the nearby town of Khan Younis after his house was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike and his father suffered a head injury to his spine.
He may now have to leave Rafah, but it is unclear where he could go safely.
“People are very afraid of a possible ground military operation in the city soon,” he said.
Abo Mohamed Attya said he was sleeping in a tent with his family when he woke up to the sound of shelling.
“All of a sudden…missiles are being fired everywhere and also shooting, and planes everywhere, all at tents and people in the streets,” he told the BBC.
Mr. Attya, who earlier fled the Nuseirat refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip after receiving Israeli evacuation orders, complained that the Israeli army had not been warned that she was going to target Rafah during the night.
“We were hoping there would be a warning to evacuate like they did in Nuseirat and we went to Rafah. We would have come out of Rafah wherever they told us. We have no problem, we would evacuate for our children,” he explained.
The Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 67 people were killed in Israeli strikes and the hostage rescue raid in Rafah overnight.
“There is no safe place anymore; nowhere is safe, even hospitals are not safe. Instead, we hope to die,” Mr. Attya said.
In addition to the persistent threat of Israeli airstrikes and the impending ground operation, the situation of Rafah residents is made more difficult by dire living conditions, with limited access to water, food and sanitation, and a rapid decline in medical supplies.
Dr Abuibaid said he had observed many illnesses among Rafah’s population and that they had been exacerbated by the “severe decline in the availability of medicines and treatments”.
Another Rafah doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC that many people were living in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
“I live here with 20 people in two rooms…and I know people who are 100 people in three rooms.”
“We don’t have water to wash, we don’t have clothes, we don’t have the possibility of doing hygienic things,” he said.
“My friends, everyone I meet… everyone has at least the flu, cholera, diarrhea, scabies, hepatitis A – which is new to us – and it’s getting worse and worse. “
“And the aid is dwindling as the siege intensifies, the war intensifies and (Israeli soldiers) get closer to Rafah, and that’s very scary right now,” he said.
Despite being located next to the only crossing point for goods and people between Gaza and Egypt, Rafah has not received enough aid to meet the needs of the population.
A local resident told the BBC that currently people were waiting days for help and when they arrived, water supplies were insufficient.
“We can’t find water and we don’t have enough, our throats are dry from the lack of water,” said another woman from Rafah.
The head of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), the largest humanitarian organization in Gaza, said on Monday that civil order was collapsing, with members of the local police led by the Hamas being killed or hesitant to protect aid trucks. out of fear for their own safety.
“Yesterday, for the first time, the UN could not operate with a minimum of protection, that is to say the local police. And as we did not have local police, our trucks, our convoys at the border were looted, and trucks were vandalized by hundreds of young people.”
“No idea” where to go
However, for some displaced people, fears about what happens next outweigh even their daily anxieties about finding clean water and food.
“Before we were thinking about starvation, lack of food, lack of water and electricity. But now we are traumatized by the next step, where we should go. This is our daily life at the moment” , Ibrahim Isbaita told the BBC.
Asked where he and his family planned to go if they had to leave Rafah, Mr. Isbaita replied: “Actually, I have no idea.”
He explained that his mother needed dialysis treatment, which she can currently receive in Rafah when electricity allows – although the treatment is less frequent than necessary. The fear is that if they move, she won’t be able to find treatment in a future location.
“I live next to the hospital because of my mother and we are doing our best to find a solution,” Mr Isbaita added.
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