Thousands of destitute Palestinian civilians once again headed to the south of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, fleeing on foot from the north of the ruined territory where ground fighting, accompanied by bombings, rages between the Israeli army and the Hamas.
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After more than a month of deadly Israeli strikes, in retaliation for the bloody attack carried out by Hamas against Israel on October 7, several hundred thousand civilians, according to the UN, remain trapped in a disastrous humanitarian situation in the north from the Gaza Strip.
Thursday, like the day before, a crowd of men and women on foot, carrying their children in their arms, empty-handed or carrying small bundles, invaded the road leading south, according to an AFP journalist.
Israel announced that it had opened a new evacuation “corridor” for several hours, after the departure of 50,000 people on Wednesday.
The Israeli army declared that it had taken control the day before, “after ten hours of fighting”, of a Hamas “stronghold” in Jabaliya, a refugee camp in northern Gaza.
During these combats, the soldiers “seized numerous weapons, discovered tunnel entrances, one of which, adjacent to a kindergarten, led to a vast underground network,” added the army.
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Israel has been relentlessly bombing the small territory since October 7 and has vowed to “annihilate” the Islamist movement in power in the Gaza Strip, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
The army has also been carrying out a ground operation there since October 27, tightening its grip on the city of Gaza, in the north, where, according to Israel, the “center” of Hamas’ infrastructure is located.
Some 130 tunnel entrances have been discovered since the start of this operation, which cost the lives of 34 soldiers according to the army.
On Wednesday, AFP was able to approach the epicenter of the fighting in northern Gaza during an incursion organized by the Israeli army. Burnt palm trees, twisted lampposts, deformed road signs testified to the intensity of the offensive along the ruined coastal road which connects the north to the south of the territory.
Buried in an orchard
According to the UN, 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip’s 2.4 million inhabitants have been displaced by the war. Hundreds of thousands of distressed refugees are crowding into the south, where food supplies are falling dangerously, according to the UN.
Israel, however, denied the existence of a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, while recognizing the “many difficulties” facing civilians.
Mahmoud al-Masri, a 60-year-old farmer, hastily buried his three brothers and five nephews in his orchard, before fleeing his home in Beit Hanoun, in the northeast of the Gaza Strip, near the separation barrier with Israel.
“We were forced to bury them in the orchard because the cemetery is in the border area where tanks make incursions and the situation there is very dangerous. I will transfer the bodies after the war,” this man who took refuge with his family in a hospital in Khan Younes, a town in the south of the Gaza Strip, told an AFP journalist.
A surgeon from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Tom Potokar, described a “catastrophic” situation at the European Hospital in Khan Younes.
“During the last 24 hours, I saw three patients with maggots in their wounds,” he told AFP.
In Israel, at least 1,400 people have been killed since the start of the war, according to the authorities, the majority of them civilians killed on the day of the Hamas attack, of a violence and scale unprecedented since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Hamas also holds 239 hostages, according to the army.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli bombardments left 10,812 dead, mainly civilians including 4,412 children, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
“Headlamps” to operate
Multiple calls for a truce have been launched in vain to allow aid to be delivered to the population of the 362 square kilometer territory deprived of water, electricity, food and medicine by the total siege imposed by Israel since October 9.
The humanitarian situation is worsening day by day, according to NGOs, while international aid arrives in dribs and drabs from Egypt.
In the north of the Gaza Strip, hundreds of thousands of people are still north of the Wadi Gaza, the waterway that crosses the territory from east to west, “in a dire humanitarian situation”, “struggling to obtain the minimum quantities of water and food necessary for their survival,” according to the UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (Ocha).
Hospitals that have not yet closed lack medicines and fuel to run generators.
“We try to treat the sick by installing lamps on the walls that run on car batteries,” says Dr. Ahmad Mhanna, a doctor at Al-Awda hospital in Jabaliya, who describes a “sad and tragic” situation. .
In the maternity ward, “doctors use headlamps”, just like in the operating room, where surgeons operate “under local anesthesia”, due to lack of electricity to operate the equipment necessary for general anesthesia.
Gaza, plagued by poverty, was already subject to an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since Hamas took power there in 2007.
“A crisis of humanity”
During an international humanitarian conference organized by French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday in Paris, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) launched a new cry of alarm.
“The nightmare that Gaza is going through today is more than a humanitarian crisis, it is a crisis of humanity. It is our duty to seize the opportunity to restore it today, without further delay,” declared UNRWA.
The Israeli government is not represented at this conference and Arab countries have not sent a high-level representative. Emmanuel Macron called for “a very rapid humanitarian pause” and to “work towards a ceasefire”.
Egypt denounced the “international silence on the violations of law” committed by Israel, whose Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rules out any ceasefire without the release of hostages in the hands of Hamas.
A source close to Hamas in Gaza told AFP that negotiations led by Qatar were underway for the release of twelve hostages, including six Americans, in exchange for a three-day humanitarian truce.
In the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, where violence is increasing, eight Palestinians were killed Thursday during an Israeli army raid in Jenin, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
According to AFP journalists in Jenin, “intense fighting” accompanied by shooting and explosions was heard for almost an hour in this city.
At least 170 Palestinians have been killed by fire from Israeli soldiers or settlers in this territory since October 7, according to the Palestinian Authority.
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