Few Civilians Left In Rafah 'trapped' By The Fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah 'trapped' by the fighting

Rafah, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 25th Jun, 2024) Rafah city centre in Gaza lies deserted after most residents fled weeks of fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups led by Hamas that punctuated daily life there.

Those who are left in the city feel trapped.

Israeli officials have described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

In early May troops entered the city in the south of the Palestinian territory, bombarding areas near the border with Egypt and forcing tens of thousands of residents to leave.

"There is no more water or food. We are totally trapped," said Haitham Abu Taha.

He is one of the few Palestinians who returned to Rafah with his family after Israel's army recently announced a daily pause on a southern route.

"It was better than staying in tents or with relatives because we were separated from each other," he remembered thinking, before returning to find that soldiers "had not really withdrawn".

There is "almost no one left" in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later.

Over the desolate city's sea of rubble, Palestinians say Israeli drones fly precise manoeuvres at low altitudes.

Almost silent, they offer a detailed view of the terrain and have been used, Palestinians say, to carry out precision strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago.

- Quadcopter drones -

Abu Taha, 30, spoke of the "danger of quadcopter drones which mercilessly target anyone walking" in the streets.

"Many people were killed" by the quadcopters, 22-year-old Ismail Abu Shaar told AFP, claiming to have stayed at home to "protect" the area.

"The artillery, the shooting and the clashes" never stop, he said.

The Israeli military said on Monday it was "continuing intelligence-based targeted operations" in and around Rafah, adding that it had found "large amounts of weapons".

"We are clearly approaching the point where we can say we have dismantled the Rafah Brigade (of Hamas), that it is defeated not in the sense that there are no more terrorists, but in the sense that it can no longer function as a fighting unit," army chief Herzi Halevi said in a statement after touring Rafah late on Sunday.

However, Palestinian armed groups, notably Hamas armed wing the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, say they regularly operate in the area.

William Schomburg, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rafah, told journalists on Saturday that the city is now a "ghost town".

"We see very few people, very significant destruction," he said.

The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting.

- 'Afraid to move' -

International organisations have said for months they face extreme difficulties in providing humanitarian aid to civilians, while the Israeli authorities say they have allowed the aid in but it has not been collected for distribution.

Plumes of smoke rise regularly above Rafah, to which Egypt partly controlled access until the war changed the situation on the ground.

Before the Israeli ground offensive on the city began in early May, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took refuge there, displaced from across the territory as the fighting intensified.

Many have left homes where they had lived for years or apartments they had rented at high prices after the war began -- or tents erected in haste as the war tightened its grip on the city.

At the end of May, AFP correspondents saw hundreds of Palestinians fleeing Tal Al-Sultan, a district of Rafah which had just been hit by an Israeli strike that left 45 dead, according to the local authorities in the Hamas-run territory.

After strikes last week killed dozens, the east and centre of the city are becoming even more empty as the people flee.

On flatbed vans and donkey carts, families piled patched-up solar panels, foam mattresses covered with flowers, wooden planks and plastic pipes.

A young boy pushed sheets of metal on an office chair.

Many say they simply do not have the means to embark on a new move, as the war closes in on the few who remain behind with them.

"We're afraid to move because we fear being killed," said Abu Taha.