Families forced to flee their homes in bid to find refuge
Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30
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)