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Gaza, on the ground: "The worst scenes I've ever seen"
Two weeks into a massive Israeli airstrike, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip feel betrayed by the international community as they struggle to survive
The constant fear of death and the sense of loss have been exhausting, says Basel, a Palestinian aid worker trying to find shelter in the south of the Gaza Strip.
"When I drove from Gaza [City] to the south, it was the worst scenes I've ever seen. Thousands walking. And I wished I had a train or a truck to take all of them but I only have my car with the whole family squeezed in," the senior aid worker — whose name has been changed for this article to respect his wish for anonymity — told DW by phone.
Basel fled with his family from his home in a residential neighbourhood of Gaza City to the southern part of the small enclave after Israel ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion.
An estimated 1 million people used to live in the area marked for evacuation, which includes Gaza City. Some stayed behind as they had no means of transportation, or because they had elderly or sick relatives unable to move.
"I wish the Earth had swallowed me instead of having to see my people having to go through this," Basel said. "People were simply walking on foot towards the south, carrying mattresses, big plastic bags with some clothing. And not everyone has a family or a relative to give them a place to stay. And all the time, airstrikes continue."
Last Saturday and Sunday, 14-15 October, the Israeli army gave residents a specific time frame and instructions for safe passage along two main roads from the north to the south — yet airstrikes have continued in recent days on the southern part of Gaza, where many have now sought refuge.
Hours in line for bread, water in short supply
At a bakery in Nuseirat Refugee Camp in the south of Gaza, people had to wait hours for bread. Among those standing in line was Mohammed Taha, a father of four who is from the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City.
"I've been waiting here for almost two hours to get some bread for my family," said Taha. He is now taking refuge with his children, wife and other relatives at an UNWRA school in the Nuseirat refugee camp. "The water situation is difficult, we don't have enough to wash. We are in a miserable situation, but I am lucky compared to the people who are sleeping in the street."
His four children constantly cry, he said. Adding that the feeling of not being safe was the worst, as the area where they sought refuge had also been hit by Israeli airstrikes. "My kids are terrified, we try to calm them down, and tell them this won't last for long. But I feel from deep inside, it will be very long," the father admitted.
War in Gaza, yet again
Residents of the small enclave on the Mediterranean Sea have experienced four wars in the past 15 years and numerous shorter military escalations. The territory has been isolated from the rest of the world by Israel and partially by Egypt for more than 16 years — ever since the militant group Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel since the beginning of this latest conflict — most in the initial terror attacks on October 7, when Hamas militants from Gaza breached the fence separating Israel and Gaza and attacked the southern communities, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians and soldiers and taking more than 200 people hostage. Rockets still continue to be launched towards Israel.
In retaliation, Israel has been targeting the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and with naval and artillery fire while preparing for a ground invasion, though the Israeli army says it doesn't target civilians.
More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed, among them more than 1,500 children; more than 12,000 people have been injured, according to the local Hamas authorities. Hundreds are said to be missing, buried under the rubble of bombed homes.
Israel has also shuttered its crossings and stopped delivering electricity, fuel and food to the besieged enclave.
"I am not sure if we will survive this"
Any feeling of safety or protection is long gone, says Basel. The aid worker is increasingly angry that the international community talks about Gaza only in humanitarian terms, but doesn't question why the civilian population must pay the price.
"Give me one case where a government received permission to invade a whole neighbourhood or a whole city because a crime happened, because somebody living in that neighbourhood committed a crime?" he asked.
After days of shuttle diplomacy and solidarity visits by international leaders to Israel, Egypt has finally opened the Rafah crossing to allow in some trucks with international aid.
Egyptian sources say roads need to be repaired at the border as they have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes. It is unclear how aid will be distributed once it enters the heavily bombarded territory. If Hamas confiscates the aid, "it will end", warned US President Joe Biden during his visit to Israel.
For many in Gaza who have lost their homes and whose lives have been shattered, this is all too little, too late anyway. The international community, says aid worker Basel, is failing the people of Gaza.
He is disappointed and says he doesn't care much for help, humanitarian aid or safe passage alone: "I want protection as a human being."
Hazem Balousha contributed from Nuseirat in the Gaza Strip.