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Gaza war grinds on as forcibly displaced run out of space to shelter

Palestinians in Khan Younis on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began.
Palestinians in Khan Younis on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began.

Gaza war grinds on as forcibly displaced run out of space to shelter

By Daniel Johnson
Peace and Security

Bombing continued overnight into Thursday in Gaza where some of the tens of thousands of people uprooted in response to Israeli evacuation orders have had to turn back after finding nowhere to shelter, UN humanitarians reported.

“Thousands are sheltering in UNRWA schools…and government buildings,” the UN agency for Palestine refugees told UN News, adding that others “are already beginning to turn back, telling us of lack of spaces in other areas”.

UNRWA also reiterated warnings that living conditions are “beyond unbearable”, because of the mountains of waste and rubbish piled high alongside roads and near makeshift shelters.

An estimated 85,000 people have left Shujaiyah district in eastern Gaza City in the north of the enclave in the last week, UNRWA noted, while latest data indicates that by Tuesday, at least 66,700 more Gazans had been displaced from eastern Khan Younis and Rafah, both in the south, following new evacuation orders issued on Monday evening.

Pitiful shelters and trash

Beyond the UN’s premises-turned-shelters, many more thousands of families now live “in the skeletons of bombed-out buildings or among piles of trash”, UNRWA said, before echoing warnings from the UN health agency, WHO, of a rise in communicable diseases including diarrhoea and hepatitis, particularly among malnourished children with weakened immune systems.

“Military action in the Khan Younis area could further hamper people's access to safe water at a time when the lack of sanitation is significantly contributing to the spread of disease,” UNRWA insisted.

Child tragedy

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In addition to the deadly risks posed by ongoing Israeli bombardment at night, ordinary Gazans face the threat of unexploded weapons. According to the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, a nine-year-old girl was killed and three others injured when an unspecified device detonated in Khan Younis on Saturday 29 June.

“Unexploded ordnance poses an enormous threat to people, as families are forced to move to areas that have been bombarded or were the scene of previous heavy fighting,” OCHA said.

UN mine action experts have previously noted that some 10 per cent of ammunition fired in the conflict can be expected not to function.

This represents a lethal danger to civilians and particularly the many children who spend “six to eight hours a day collecting water and food, often carrying heavy weights and walking long distances”, UNRWA said.

Aid lifeline at risk

To help the most vulnerable people in Gaza, the UN agency has continued to distribute water, food, and other essential non-food items with the help of other partners.

But the scale of needs remains massive after new evacuation orders were issued on Monday night for eastern Khan Younis and Rafah, covering about one third of the total are of Gaza and representing the largest such order since October.

“UNRWA continues to provide deliver critical water, food parcels, flour, diapers, mattresses, tarpaulins and healthcare, but it is becoming almost impossible for the UN to provide any kind of response due to the Israeli imposed siege, lack of fuel, lack of aid supplies, lack of safety, breakdowns in law and order and increased criminality and now further displacement orders,” the UN agency said. These orders to evacuate “once again impact our safety to move and access to the border crossing to receive aid”.

Latest data from the Gazan health authorities indicates that almost 38,000 people have been killed in the enclave and more than 87,000 wounded since war erupted on 7 October, following Hamas-led terror attacks on multiple Israeli targets in southern Israel that left some 1,250 dead and over 250 taken hostage.

West Bank spiral

In a related development, OCHA reported that in the West Bank there have been 28 incidents of airstrikes there since 7 October – including two last week. “Fourteen children were among the 77 Palestinians killed during these airstrikes,” the UN aid office said in an update on Wednesday, which also noted that at least 200 homes had been damaged during a recent operation by Israeli forces in the Nur Shams Refugee Camp in Tulkarm.