Gazans fear Israeli attack on their last refuge; US launches retaliatory strikes

Israeli forces shelled the outskirts of Rafah on Friday, the last refuge on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where hundreds of thousands displaced people, penned against the border fence, feared a new assault with nowhere left to flee.

The United States also began retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria, the US military said, after a drone attack in Jordan this week killed three US troops, developments likely to increase concern about spiralling tensions in the Middle East.

The US strikes targeted Iran-backed militants that Washington has blamed for the drone attack, the first deadly strike against US forces since the Israel-Gaza war erupted in October.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now homeless and crammed into Rafah on the Egyptian border. Tens of thousands have arrived in recent days, carrying belongings in their arms and pulling children on carts, since Israeli forces last week launched one of the biggest assaults of the war to capture adjacent Khan Younis, the main southern city.

If the Israeli tanks keep coming, “we will be left with two choices: stay and die or climb the walls into Egypt,” said Emad, 55, a businessman and father of six, reached on a mobile phone chat app.

“Most of Gaza’s population are in Rafah. If the tanks storm in, it will be a massacre like never before during this war.”

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that troops would now “eliminate terror elements” in Rafah, one of the few areas not yet taken in an almost four-month-old assault.

As the only part of Gaza with access to the limited food and medical aid trickling across the border, Rafah and nearby parts of Khan Younis have become a warren of makeshift tents, clogged by winter mud. Wind and cold add to the misery, blowing tents down or flooding them and the ground in-between.

“What should we do? We live in multiple miseries, a war, starvation, and now the rain,” said Um Badri, a mother of five from Gaza City, now in a tent in Khan Younis.

“We used to wait for winter, to enjoy watching the rain from the balcony of our house. Now, our house is gone, and the rainwater has flooded the tent we have ended up in.”

With phone service mostly absent across Gaza, residents climbed a sandy berm at the border fence and crouched beside the razor wire hoping for an Egyptian mobile signal. Mariam Odeh was trying to get a message to family still in Khan Younis, “to tell them we are still alive and not martyrs like the others”.


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