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Nearly 1 million Palestinians are fleeing Rafah and northern Gaza

Displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip carry their belongings as they leave following an evacuation order by the Israeli military on May 6.
-/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip carry their belongings as they leave following an evacuation order by the Israeli military on May 6.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — More than 900,000 people have fled the city of Rafah and areas of northern Gaza since May 6, when Israeli forces sent evacuation notices, the United Nations says.

The city had been the last refuge in the Gaza Strip for more than 1 million displaced Palestinians.

As Israeli forces have moved in, it is the scene of the largest mass movement in seven months of war.

Loaded high with blankets and gas canisters, trucks and donkey carts carrying families make their way out of the city. The roads are unpaved and muddy, and many buildings have been destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.

Many evacuees have been displaced four or five times, the United Nations and aid agencies say, or sometimes more. Israel's military has gone ahead with its plans despite warnings by the United States and other countries that a major operation will devastate civilians in Rafah.

The Israeli military has sent tanks into Rafah and announced it would send more ground troops. On Friday, the United Nations' International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to halt its offensive on Rafah, though it did not call for an end to Israel’s wider offensive across the Gaza Strip and has no power to enforce its ruling.

Drones can be heard overhead in the sky throughout the day, and at night, bombardment rocks the city, injuring and killing dozens.

Some of the injured in Rafah are sent to the Kuwaiti Hospital, one of the the only functioning hospitals in the area. With most nearby hospitals ordered by the Israeli military to shut, there are few other places to send the injured.

A child looks out at the rubble after an Israeli airstrike in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on May 20.
Anas Baba / NPR
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NPR
A child looks out at the rubble after an Israeli airstrike in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on May 20.

“The problem is where to send the cases after they have been stabilized because we don’t have an admissions department,” says the director of the Kuwaiti Hospital, Jamal al-Hams.

So far, Al-Hams says the hospital hasn't received an order from the Israeli military to evacuate.

“So long as we are in a safe area according to the map that the Israeli authorities have declared, we will continue our service and will continue receiving injured people,” he says.

While hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pick up their belongings and flee, many in Rafah lack adequate funds to leave and say they have left their fate up to God.

At an abandoned school building that has become a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, ragged clothing hangs to dry from the windows and balconies of classrooms, and children play in the bombed-out courtyard, garbage strewn around them.

Aya Kafarna, a nurse who lives at the school, arrived there after being displaced six times.

“I don't have the means to evacuate again,” Kafarna says. “I want to get a container to load my stuff in, I need at least 1,800 shekels,” nearly $500.

Kafarna got married a month before the war started. She became pregnant, but miscarried four months into her pregnancy. She blames her miscarriage on the constant displacement.

Kafarna and her family say they are forced to stay.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said that it was running out of food, and on Tuesday announced it was suspending food aid delivery in Rafah.

UNRWA’s director of planning in Rafah, Sam Rose, said they had no other choice.

“The decision was taken essentially because we are out of supplies,” he told NPR. “We do not have anything in our warehouses.”

Anas Baba reported from Rafah. Hadeel Al-Shalchi reported from Tel Aviv.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Anas Baba
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.
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