Wednesday 29 June 2016

Families forced to flee their homes in bid to find refuge

David Blair and Bani Suheila

Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30

Smoke and flames from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade in the face of US efforts to reach a cease-fire. AP
Smoke and flames from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade in the face of US efforts to reach a cease-fire. AP
Palestinians walk past a fire following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City. Reuters
A Palestinian runs in an area damaged in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip. AP
A Palestinian man holds a girl, whom medics said was injured in an Israeli shelling at a UN-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian girl, whom medics said was wounded in Israeli shelling at a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, is treated at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A crater marks the centre of a courtyard at a United Nations-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that police said was hit by an Israeli shell, in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian baby boy is carried after being evacuated from a UN-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, which witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Blood and and discarded belongings are left behind at a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. AP
An Israeli soldier carries a tank shell near the Israel and Gaza border. AP
A smoke trail is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel. Reuters
An Israeli soldier shoots tear gas towards Palestinian protesters against the Israeli military action in Gaza, during a demonstration at Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus. AP
Israeli soldiers guard Palestinians captured during a military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel said on Thursday it had detained scores of Palestinians during fighting in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters / Walla News
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. AP
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. AP
Palestinians search for victims under the rubble of a house which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike during an Israeli ground offensive east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man looks through a window scarred with shrapnel from a neighbouring building that police said was hit by an overnight Israeli air strike, in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Palestinians ride in a truck as they flee their houses from Israeli shelling during an Israeli ground offensive east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Palestinian rescue workers search for victims under the rubble of a house which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike during an Israeli ground offensive east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters

A mile from Gaza's eastern border with Israel, once teeming streets lie silent and deserted. Every shop is closed and shuttered, no traffic dares to move and flat-roofed homes stand empty.

As Israeli forces strike into Gaza, troops and tanks are trying to carve out a zone along the frontier where Hamas can neither launch rockets nor infiltrate its fighters through tunnels.

To achieve this, Israel has herded tens of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes and away from the border. This policy of clearing the civilian population, ostensibly for their own safety, is open and proclaimed.

One week after the ground invasion began with a thunderous bombardment, large areas of Gaza have been depopulated. The town of Bani Suheila in southern Gaza still has a market and some bustling streets. But the eerily silent dead zone, devoid of almost every inhabitant, begins on the town's eastern fringe and extends all the way to the border.

Inside this deserted area lie the suburbs of Abasan and Khuzaa, which have been cleared of most of their people. The refugees could have fled to Bani Suheila, the nearest possible place of safety. But the dead zone keeps creeping westwards as Israeli units penetrate deeper into Gaza, displacing more people as they advance.

The refugees have chosen to travel onwards to the centre of Khan Younis, the biggest town in southern Gaza.

Raja'a Abu Latifa (30) fled her home in Abasan, barely half a mile from the border, after the building was damaged by Israeli tank fire. At first, Mrs Latifa took her son and four daughters to the nearby house of her father-in-law.

Soon, the extended family of about 30 people were gathered there. Then, on Monday, their supposed haven was hit. "The house filled with smoke and suddenly it became like a ruin," said Mrs Latifa.

"So we decided we must leave. We started saying goodbye to each other because we thought we would die. I held my only son and I hugged him."

As the family fled, shells were exploding all around. "We just started praying to Allah to save us," said Mrs Latifa.

A neighbour with a van took them some of the distance, until he became so terrified by the barrage that he stopped and fled.

The family walked to the centre of Khan Younis, where they found refuge in a school run by the United Nations. In the confusion, Mrs Latifa's 12-year-old son, Yassin, went missing. For three days, his whereabouts were unknown.

Yassin was eventually found in the care of a relative and reunited with his mother. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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