Skip to main content

Gaza City residents plead: 'Where do we go now?'

Palestinians leaving the Gaza City district of Tuffah amid a new Israeli evacuation order and renewed military offensive
— Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Riding donkey carts, bicycles or on foot, thousands of Palestinians fled Gaza City on Monday, after Israel issued a third evacuation warning for the city where intense fighting took place.

Civilians have now been ordered out of the majority of the Gaza Strip's largest city, where thousands of families had sought shelter from fighting in other parts of the war-stricken territory.

"Where do we go now?" asked Abdullah Khammash, who described how he left his latest refuge at 03:00 am.

Backed by fighter jet and drone strikes, tanks entered the city centre as an army spokesman warned residents of the Sabra, Rimal, Tal Al-Hawa and Al-Daraj districts to flee to "humanitarian zones".

The civil defence agency in the Hamas-run territory said even before the latest evacuation warning that it had reports of "dozens" of dead and wounded from different parts of the city.

The military ordered Gaza City's Al-Ahli Arab Hospital evacuated after "a large amount of firing from drones" nearby on Sunday, the Episcopal Church's Jerusalem Diocese said in a statement.

The hospital was "compelled to close" by the army and is now "out of operation," the Diocese said. It expressed "dismay" and said "sick and injured people have few other options" for treatment in the territory where, according to the United Nations, fewer than half the hospitals are even partly functional.

- UN office targeted -

The Israeli military has been fighting for nearly two weeks in the Shujaiya district of the city where it issued an evacuation order on June 27. It said it had "eliminated" dozens of "terrorists" in the latest fighting.

Loudspeakers on armoured vehicles toured the Al-Daraj and Al-Tuffah neighbourhoods telling people to leave.

Israel said the operation targets included the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, in Gaza City.

The military said it was acting "following intelligence indicating the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure, operatives, weapons, and investigation and detention rooms in the area of Gaza City, including in the UNRWA headquarters."

For Muhammad Bisan, it all meant "an indescribable night".

"Planes and artillery are bombing and drones are firing from all directions, and we do not know where to run, right or left," Bisan told AFP.

The other resident, Khammash, expressed frustration that the miliary "tell us to leave this area and go to another area, and then they come from that area."

He said his family, "slept in the streets. People felt sorry for us and gave us blankets and here we are again living in the rubble."

With a plastic bag under his arm, he said: "God knows what will happen now. Just bury us alive and make this end."

Early last week Israel's army also placed districts near the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah under evacuation orders, which the United Nations said affected 250,000 people as fighting flared.