Less than two weeks after bombs began raining down on the Gaza Strip, Ghada al-Kurd He arrived in the southern city of Khan Younis. She had already been displaced three times and she hoped this would be her last trip to safety.
But three months later, Israeli forces advanced south. Mrs. al-Kurd, 37, spoke by phone and said that she, her sister, her brother-in-law and four nephews and nieces left the tent they had been sharing “without taking anything with us” and headed to Rafah, the city from Gaza. southernmost city.
Many of the estimated 1.7 million Gazans who UN agencies say have been displaced by Israel’s relentless bombing and ground invasions have repeatedly fled over the course of a war that had already entered its fifth month. . And Mrs. al-Kurd’s relatives are among more than a million people who have flocked to Rafah, only to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the Israeli military to draw up plans to evacuate the “ combat zones” of the city. of an expected ground offensive.
The order, which set off international alarm, is forcing the displaced people who take refuge there, along with more than 200,000 citizens of Rafah, to consider their next step.
“I regret leaving Gaza City,” said al-Kurd, whose two daughters stayed in the north with their father. “If I had stayed at home it would have been better than all the suffering and humiliation of displacement, because every time you flee to a new place you have to start all over again.”
If Israel allows it and the roads are opened, he said, he will immediately return to Gaza City, “and that will be my last time fleeing.”
Many others now in Rafah also speak of repeated displacements. Talaat al-Qaisi said he and his wife had just finished furnishing their new apartment, in the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, when their building was bombed on October 10, just days after the Hamas-led attacks. against Israel that unleashed the war.
The family escaped just in time, after seeing neighbors fleeing their own homes. “We barely left the building when the shelling started on our street,” al-Qaisi said, speaking by phone.
They took shelter in a nearby church, but on October 13, Israel ordered residents in the north to evacuate. Mr al-Qaisi and his son walked for more than four hours to his sister’s apartment in Rafah and sent a car to look for his wife, who was ill, and the rest of the family. The 10 family members, including his seven-month-old grandson, are staying in a small one-bedroom apartment in Rafah, he said.
When asked what he would do next, he said: “Planning for anything has become useless and meaningless,” adding: “The situation continues to exceed our previous predictions” about how much worse it can get.
Al-Qaisi predicted total chaos if Israeli forces advanced towards Rafah, and people would probably start running in all directions, not knowing where to go.
“I’ll move with the crowd, what else can I do? We have nowhere else to go,” she stated. “Other people I spoke to told me they refuse to flee again even if it means dying in their shelters.”
Mohammed al-Baradie, 24, said the threat of an Israeli advance on Rafah had persuaded him to move again, his fourth move. But his plan to flee to Nuseirat, in central Gaza, was thwarted by heavy shelling there overnight, he said.
“Half of Gaza’s population is here in Rafah and is in the same situation,” he said in a voice message on Saturday. “They don’t know where to go.”
Emma Bubola contributed reporting from London.