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Gaza's border becoming no-man's land

Residents in the border areas of the Gaza Strip are targeted by Israeli airstrikes, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Ahlam Ahmad, 32, fled her house in Beit Lahiya's Salatin neighborhood, in the northern Gaza Strip, after it was subjected to direct risk from the mounting number of Israeli artillery shells fired continuously and at random.

Ahlam told Al-Monitor that the shelling that hit the area came from Israeli gunboats anchored off the coast of the Gaza Strip, in the Mediterranean Sea. "In addition to artillery shelling, Israeli navy boats were sporadically targeting their missiles at our homes, thus scaring our children,” she said, adding that Israeli warplanes used other ways also to terrorize citizens in those areas — by dropping thousands of leaflets instructing people to flee and inciting them against the Palestinian resistance, thus leading to their displacement.

Rana Sultan, 24, now lives in one of the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). She left her house with her two children and headed to her family's home to escape the continuous Israeli bombardment, but the missiles reached the area, which is relatively far from her home in Beit Hanoun.

Rana fled without taking anything with her, not even money, while her husband decided to stay behind to guard the house. She told Al-Monitor: “We came to my parents' house without any money, clothes or children's necessities. I then left my family’s house and headed to the UNRWA school to escape the shelling that reached a few meters away from us.”

Residents of the northern Gaza Strip, on the border with Israel, are displaced during every war and whenever the Israeli madness intensifies. Many residents fled during the night after their homes were hit by rocket-propelled grenades as they slept.

Khalid al-Sultan, 19, also a resident of Salatin neighborhood, fled with his large family about 3 a.m. on July 12 after Israeli missiles hit their area while the family was asleep. This prompted Khalid’s father to take the decision of leaving the area in an attempt to save their lives.

Khalid told Al-Monitor that the displacement was sudden and hundreds of neighbors and residents fled the area after the intensification of the bombings. “We fled on foot from our houses around 3 a.m., because we did not have a car. We were exhausted when we reached the UNRWA school after 7 a.m.,” he said.

Khalid's family had left their house on July 10 for the first time to go to a relative’s home, after shells fell in their neighborhood. Hours later, calm returned to the area and they returned home. However, fighting in the early hours of July 12 was more fierce, prompting them to leave their house and the northern Gaza area once again.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the population of the northern Gaza Strip counts more than 220,000 people, all of whom are exposed to dangers due to their proximity to the Israeli border, not to mention that this is the region most affected in each Israeli war on Gaza.

UNRWA, which is in charge of the needs of Palestinian refugees who live in the Gaza Strip, opened the doors of its schools to receive the displaced from border areas, especially in the north.

The agency's spokesman, Adnan Abu Hasna, said the number of people who left their homes in the northern Gaza Strip until now has reached 17,000. They have taken refuge in 20 UNRWA schools.

Abu Hasna told Al-Monitor that most of the displaced were from the regions of Atatra and Salatin, directly adjacent to the border with the Israeli occupation. “Most of the displaced fled their houses last Sunday [July 13] and Monday [July 14] and UNRWA is still helping them by providing food, drinks and basic necessities,” he said.

However, the danger is not only limited to the population of the northern Gaza Strip as the Israeli border surrounds Gaza to the east in the Shojaeya area and the neighboring suburbs, in addition to some areas of the south on the outskirts of the towns of Rafah and Khan Yunis.

The Palestinian Civil Defense in the Gaza Strip advises of the evacuation areas exposed to danger or continuous bombing. According to its director-general in the Gaza Strip, Said al-Saudi, some residents in the northern and eastern areas of the Gaza Strip were advised to ready themselves to evacuate and not to open their windows for fear of a significant impact by the Israeli bombardment.

Saudi explained to Al-Monitor that his institution called on residents of border areas exposed to a direct risk to move to the suburbs that are far from the border, as they are less dangerous. He said, “The interior areas are always less dangerous than the border areas. Thus, we call on them [residents] to evacuate the border areas until the war ends.”

He said that he has a three-stage plan: “If the threat is minor but the residents want to evacuate their houses, we go to them and help them do so. The second level is when the risk is average, [at which time] we move cautiously to reach, evacuate and save the residents from the oppression of the occupation. The third degree is when danger is extreme. In such cases, we coordinate with the International Red Cross in addition to the Palestinian Red Crescent to evacuate the residents who are exposed to the highest level of risk, noting that Israel has targeted passenger vehicles in previous wars.”

The residents of the border areas in the Gaza Strip, especially in the north, are more affected than the rest of the population in each war. The war bill they pay is the highest among the people of Gaza, and this war is proving to be no different.

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