GAZA CITY: Surrounded by his grandchildren, Mahmud Al Sarsawi lay on a table in a corridor hooked up to an oxygen tube in a school-turned-bomb shelter in the besieged Gaza Strip.

“We all came here to escape the Israeli airstrikes,” said the elderly man from the Shujaiyya neighbourhood, adding he was among 70 people sheltering in the building for the second day from Israeli air strikes.

“The situation was terrifying, and we had no choice but to seek refuge,” added Sarsawi, 68, who is worried he may run out of oxygen.

He had taken cover in one of 44 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), which they have opened up as shelters.

More than 20,000 people in the Palestinian territory have been displaced due to fighting since Saturday, UNWRA said.

“I’m telling the people of Gaza: get out of there now, because we’re about to act everywhere with all our force,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, telling people to leave certain areas saying Hamas bases would be reduced to rubble.

Unbearable

Inside the classroom, women members of Sarsawi’s family sat on sponge mattresses brought from their home, surrounded by cooking gas, canned food and jumbled bags of clothes.

Amal Al-Sarsawi, 37, said they were still in shock, after hearing rockets thudding into Gaza. “We gathered what we needed from the house and rushed to the school,” said the mother of five.

She said they couldn’t sleep all night, as they tried to calm their frightened children.

“The situation is unbearable psychologically and economically,” she said.

A Hamas government spokesman said 13 towers and residential buildings had been destroyed, with 159 single residential units gone. Another 1,210 apartments were partially damaged.

A UNRWA employee said the New Gaza Boys School, where the Sarsawi family is sheltering, could house at least 300 people — with three families to each classroom.

Children kicked around a deflated football in the school’s courtyard, while women sought to create screens from clothes to have some limited privacy.

Most of the displaced come from the eastern part of Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip.

In one of the hallways, one woman who fled with 14 relatives from the north sat with her head in her hands. Unable to hold back tears, she said they couldn’t afford milk to feed two small babies.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2023

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