With Israeli bombs pounding the length of the Gaza Strip, Gazans have been squeezed up against the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula at the town of Rafah and say they have practically nowhere left to flee.
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes and as the bombardment comes closer again many fear the only option to keep them alive is exile to Sinai.
But they don’t want that. They say if that happened, they might never come back.
“There’s no safe place anymore. Now the Israeli ground offensive might expand to here,” said Umm Osama, a 55-year-old woman from Gaza City in the north who has sought shelter in Rafah.
“Where should we go after Rafah?”
Umm Osama and many other displaced Gazans rejected the idea of fleeing across the border, should it become possible.
“We refuse displacement to Sinai and we want to return to our homes, even if they are in ruins,” she said.
She and other Gazans are haunted by the traumatic exile of their forebears: many of Gaza’s residents are descendants of Palestinians forced to flee their homes after the creation of Israel in 1948.
“If they make me choose between living under bombardment or leaving, I’ll stay. I’ll go back even if tanks are there. I’ll go back to Gaza City and will endure anything,” said Umm Imad, a 73-year-old woman also sheltering in Rafah.
Facing weeks of Israeli aerial assault, close-range tank fire and the guns of troops on the ground which Israel said is aimed at hunting down Hamas fighters, some 85 percent of 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza have been forced towards the south of the besieged enclave.
Israel has told Gaza residents wishing to avoid being caught up in their assault against the Palestinian militant group Hamas that they should head south. Its military bombs southern areas where people have fled.
Northern Gaza was the initial focus of Israel’s assault on the Hamas-controlled territory after the group killed 1,200 Israelis in a brutal Oct. 7 attack and took 240 hostage.
Southern Rafah, strategically important because it holds the only currently functioning crossing into Gaza – one not controlled by Israel, and where aid is being delivered – is the latest area to come under intense bombardment.