Israel intensifies its attacks on Rafah as desperate Palestinians struggle in tents

DEIR BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Tent camps stretch more than 16 kilometers (10 miles) long. Gaza Coast, filling the beach and seeping into empty lots, fields and streets. Families dig trenches to use as latrines. Parents search for food and water. Children dig through trash and destroyed buildings in search of wood or cardboard for their mothers to burn for cooking.

During the past three weeks, The Israeli attack on Rafah This led to the flight of nearly one million Palestinians from southern Gaza City. Most of them have already been displaced several times during Israel’s first eight months The war in GazaWhich aims to destroy the armed Hamas movement, but it has devastated the region and caused what the United Nations says is almost a famine.

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip set up a camp in Rafah on December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali, file)

The situation was exacerbated by A Decrease in the amount of food, fuel and other supplies Reaching out to the United Nations and other relief organizations for distribution to the population. The Palestinians, who relied partly on humanitarian aid even before the war, were largely dependent on finding the basics for survival.

“The situation is tragic. You have 20 people in a tent, without clean water and no electricity. We have nothing,” said Muhammad Abu Radwan, a teacher with his wife, six children and other extended family.

“I cannot explain what it feels like to live in constant displacement and lose your loved ones,” he said. “All of this is destroying us mentally.”

Abu Radwan fled Rafah shortly after the attack Israeli aggression on the city It began on May 6 as the bombing approached the house where he was taking shelter. He and three other families paid $1,000 for donkey carts to take them to the outskirts of Khan Yunis, about 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) away. It took a day of living outside before they were able to gather the materials needed for a makeshift tent. Next to the tent, they dug a trench for a toilet, and hung blankets and old clothes around it for privacy.

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The humanitarian organization Mercy Corps said families usually have to buy wood and fabric for their tents, which can cost up to $500, not counting ropes, nails and the cost of transporting the materials.

Israeli authorities Controlling all entry points into Gaza The United Nations and aid workers say the government has allowed greater numbers of private commercial trucks to enter the area. Palestinians say that more fruits and vegetables have been found in the markets, and the prices of some have fallen.

However, most displaced Palestinians cannot afford it. Many in Gaza have not received their salaries for months, and their savings are being depleted. Even those who have money in the bank often cannot withdraw it due to the lack of cash in the area. Many turn to black market exchanges that charge fees of up to 20% to offer cash for transfers from accounts.

FILE - A tent camp shelters Palestinians displaced by an Israeli attack in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on February 27, 2024. The tent camps stretch more than 16 kilometers (10 miles) along the Gaza coast, filling the beach and extending into empty lots, fields and city streets.  (AP Photo/Hatem Ali, File)

A camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli attack in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on February 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali, file)

Meanwhile, the United Nations says humanitarian convoys carrying free supplies have fallen to almost their lowest levels in the war.

Previously, the United Nations received several hundred trucks daily. That has fallen to an average of 53 trucks per day since May 6, according to the latest figures released by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs on Friday. About 600 trucks a day are needed to stave off famine, according to the US Agency for International Development.

In the past three weeks, most of the aid received has entered through two crossings from Israel in northern Gaza and via A A US-built floating dock receives shipments by sea. But three American officials suspended the operations of this pier after it suffered damage caused by rough sea waves He told the Associated Press Tuesday.

The two main crossings in the south, Rafah from Egypt and Kerem Shalom from Israel, are either not functioning or largely inaccessible to the United Nations due to fighting nearby. Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing. But Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNRWA, said on Tuesday that the United Nations had only been able to gather about 200 of them on the Gaza side over the past three weeks due to Israeli military restrictions, the expanded offensive, Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire.

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Touma said that the entry of fuel had decreased to about one-sixth of the need. This makes it more difficult for hospitals, bakeries, water pumps and aid trucks to continue operating.

“We are having difficulty distributing what we can bring to the people who need it because of the lack of fuel for the trucks,” said Steve Vick, spokesman for the American humanitarian group Anera.

Most Fleeing from Rafah The rockets streamed into Israel’s declared humanitarian zone centered on the Al-Mawasi area, a largely barren strip of coastal land. The area was expanded north and east to reach the outskirts of the city of Khan Yunis and the city of Deir al-Balah in the center of the country, both of which were also populated.

“As we can see, there is nothing ‘humanitarian’ in these areas,” said Susie van Megen, head of Gaza operations for the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is based in the Rafah area.

Most of the humanitarian zone does not have charity kitchens or food markets. It has no functioning hospitalsThere are only a few field hospitals and even smaller medical tents cannot handle emergencies. They distribute painkillers and antibiotics if they have them, according to Mercy Corps.

There are no water resources or sewage networks in the Al Mawasi area. Mercy Corps said that with human waste accumulating near tents and garbage accumulating, many people are suffering from gastrointestinal diseases such as hepatitis and diarrhea, in addition to skin allergies and lice.

One aid worker who fled Rafah said he was lucky and could rent a house in Deir al-Balah. “You can’t walk” into town from all the tents, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because his agency would not allow him to speak. Many people he sees on the street turn yellow due to jaundice.

Israel says its attack in Rafah is vital to achieving its war goal of destruction agitation In Gaza after the group October 7 attackThe militants killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 others from southern Israel. The Israeli campaign on Gaza The attack resulted in the deaths of about 36,000 people, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

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Aid groups have warned for months that the attack on Rafah would exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. So far, Israeli operations have fallen short of the full-scale invasion it had planned, although fighting has extended from the eastern parts of Rafah to the central areas.

On Sunday, a raid hit a tent camp in the western part of Rafah, causing a large fire. Killing at least 45 people, according to health officials. prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu admits “tragic mistake” It happened.

Since the displacement caused by the attack, satellite images taken by Planet Labs PBC on May 24 showed dense new tent camps stretching along the coast from just north of Rafah to outside Deir al-Balah. Tents and shelters are densely packed in mazes of corrugated metal and plastic sheeting, with blankets and bedsheets draped over sticks to provide privacy.

Tamer Saeed Abu Al-Khair said that he goes out at 6 a.m. every day to get water, and usually returns at noon to the tent located outside Khan Yunis, where he and nearly twenty of his relatives live. His three children, aged between 4 and 10, are always sick, but he said he sends them out to collect wood to build a fire.

He fears they will come across unexploded bombs in the destroyed homes.

His elderly father has difficulty moving and uses the bathroom in a bucket, and Abu Al-Khair must regularly pay to take him to the nearest hospital for dialysis.

His wife, Lina Abu Al-Khair, said: “Wood costs money, water costs money, and everything costs money.” She collapsed into sobs. “I fear that one day I will wake up and have lost my children, my mother, my husband, and my family.”

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Magdy and Keith reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Sarah El-Deeb in Beirut, Fatima Khaled in Cairo, Tara Cobb in Washington, and Mohammed Jahjouh in Al-Mawasi in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

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