RAFAH: The Abu Mustafa family’s tent is hard against the high concrete and metal fence separating Gaza from Egypt in Rafah, the last relatively safe place in an enclave devastated by Israel’s military offensive, but one that may now also come under attack.
The family is among more than a million Palestinians now crammed into the area around Rafah and fearing they have nowhere left to flee inside a tiny strip largely reduced to rubble and where fighting still rages.
“Every day, we’re on the run. Being displaced is tough because I have two daughters with disabilities. I cant carry them around. I don’t have a car or a cart,” said Laila Abu Mustafa. “If there will be more displacement, I’m not moving,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered an evacuation plan for the civilians who crowd Rafah, camping in streets and empty lots, on the beach and like the Abu Mustafa family on the sandy strip along the Egyptian border.
Aid agencies say attack would cause untold misery
Before previous assaults on Gaza cities, Israel’s military has ordered civilians to leave without preparing any specific evacuation plan. Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic in a war that has already caused untold misery.Against the border fence, topped with barbed wire, the Abu Mustafa family hangs laundry between tents. They cook what little food they can gather in empty tin cans over a fire in the sand.
Fear of an assault on Rafah is the constant subject of every conversation in the crammed city, said Mariam, a woman who fled her home in Gaza City early in the war with her three children aged 5, 7 and 9.
“I can’t describe how we feel. There is turmoil in my head. My children keep asking me when Israel will invade Rafah and where we will go and if we will die. And I don’t have the answers,” she said.Gaza is in ruins. Under a massive daily bombardment, Israeli ground forces have overrun most of the enclave, smashing houses, public buildings and infrastructure with air raids, artillery fire and controlled detonations.Talks for a deal on a ceasefire and the release of prisoners have so far failed to bring an agreement. Last week Israel rejected a Hamas proposal, saying it would not stop fighting while the group retained brigades that Israel says are hiding in Rafah.
Egyptian security sources said more high-level talks were planned for Tuesday with senior officials from Qatar and the United States to attend, as well as Israeli and Palestinian delegations.
Israeli air raids have started targeting Rafah over recent days.
A spokesperson for France’s Foreign Ministry said “a large-scale Israeli offensive at Rafah would create a catastrophic humanitarian situation of a new and unjustifiable dimension”.
Netanyahu cast doubt on the accuracy of the Palestinian death toll, describing the figures produced by health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza as “Hamas statistics”.
“It’s only been one civilian that’s been killed for one Hamas terrorist in Gaza,” he said.
He said “we’ve killed or wounded around 20,000 Hamas terrorists, out of that 12,000 fighters” without explaining further.
Palestinian health authorities say around 70 per cent of people killed in Gaza are women or children under 18. The Israeli military said in a briefing in December that they thought roughly two civilians had been killed in Gaza for each dead Hamas combatant.
The World Health Organisation has described the Palestinian Health Ministry system for reporting casualties as “very good” and UN agencies regularly cite its death toll figures.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024