Israel-Gaza: 'There is no safe place in Gaza', warns humanitarian organisations, as Israel moves assault to the south

Humanitarian organisations warned they have run out of tents for refugees from Gaza

The United Nations has warned there is “no safe place” in Gaza as the Israeli military moves its assault into southern Gaza – where citizens had been told to flee to from the south of the country.

UNRWA, the United Nations organisation responsible for refugees in Palestine, said 600,000 people were going to be pushed to the city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border with Gaza, by the latest evacuation instructions, three days after a week-long truce expired.

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Representatives on the ground say conditions have created a "textbook formula for epidemics and a public health disaster". Another UN official said it was possible an even more hellish scenario was about to unfold – one in which humanitarian operations may not be able to respond.

Palestinians, including many displaced from other areas in the Gaza Strip, walk through a main square in Rafah near the border with Egypt.Palestinians, including many displaced from other areas in the Gaza Strip, walk through a main square in Rafah near the border with Egypt.
Palestinians, including many displaced from other areas in the Gaza Strip, walk through a main square in Rafah near the border with Egypt.

The warning comes as Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza’s second largest city, Khan Younis, with dozens of injured people rushed to hospital as a new phase of the war continues.

Humanitarian groups have said they have run out of tents to give people forced to flee from their homes or other refugee camps, while thousands of people are temporarily living in areas where there are no toilets.

The southern city of Khan Younis has been partially evacuated, with thousands of people taking to the main road south, towards Rafah.

Rafah, which has previously been spared the worst of the Israeli bombardments, is usually home to around 280,000 people. Humanitarian organisations have warned it does not have the facilities to cope with up to three times its population.

UNRWA said in a statement: “We have said it repeatedly, we are saying it again. No place is safe in Gaza. The level of human suffering is intolerable. The resumption of the military operation and its expansion further in southern Gaza is repeating horrors from past weeks.”

Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, said the aid organisation was handing out its final 300 tents to refugees and warned the infrastructure in southern Gaza could not cope.

"Thousands without shelter living in the open – exposure will take lives,” he said. "The water and sanitation infrastructure for 280,000 people in Rafah will not even come close to providing for an internally displaced population that could reach a million people.”

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He warned the humanitarian situation “worsens by the hour”. “The roads leading south towards Rafah are clogged with cars and donkey carts packed with people and their meagre possessions,” he said.

Unicef spokesman James Elder, who was in Gaza until earlier this week, said the Israeli military was dropping leaflets with QR codes that "open a map guiding Gazans to safer areas". However, communications networks have been shut off intermittently, while many people do not have a working phone due to a lack of electricity.

Mr Elder described the "safe zones" as a "dangerous false narrative".

"These are tiny patches of barren land,” he said. “They have no water, no facilities, no shelter from the cold, no sanitation.

"If you are going to forcibly evacuate people, you cannot send hundreds of thousands people to places where there is no water and no toilets. I genuinely mean no toilets. Every corner I had turned to, there was another 5,000 people who would appear overnight. They don’t have a single toilet, they don’t have a drop of water."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said Israel had told the body it should remove its supplies from its medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours, as ground operations “will put it beyond use”.

"We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” he said.

Israel announced a 90-minute “tactical pause” in its assault of he area surrounding Rafah on Tuesday afternoon, to allow aid into the territory. "A local tactical pause will take effect today in the Rafah area until 14:00, for the purpose of allowing the entrance of further humanitarian aid," a statement said on X.

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More aid has been able to access the territory than before the ceasefire. It is estimated around 100 lorryloads of aid have entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing on each of the past two days. However, humanitarian organisations are struggling to access certain areas to distribute essential supplies.

Forces are currently believed to be encircling the Jabalia refugee camp in the north of the territory, which is said to have been used as a Hamas base.

At the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, ambulances brought dozens of injured people in throughout the night. At one point, a car pulled up and man emerged carrying a young boy in a bloody shirt whose hand had been blown off.

Satellite photos taken on Sunday showed tanks and troops massing outside Khan Younis, which was home to more than 400,000 people before the war.

Israel has said it must dismantle Hamas’s extensive military infrastructure and remove it from power in order to prevent a repeat of the October 7 attack that ignited the war. The surprise assault through the border fence saw Hamas and other Palestinian militants kill about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and capture some 240 men, women and children.

The Israeli military has said it makes every effort to spare civilians and accuses Hamas of using them as human shields as it fights in dense residential areas, where it has a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers, rocket launchers and sniper nests.

But the militant group is deeply rooted in Palestinian society, and its determination to end decades of open-ended Israeli military rule is shared by most Palestinians, even those opposed to its ideology and its attacks on Israeli civilians.

That will complicate any effort to eliminate Hamas without causing massive casualties and displacement.



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