Gaza (Reuters) – As Israel prepares to widen its military campaign in Gaza, Palestinians such as 80-year-old Mahrous Nasrallah wonder if there will be anywhere left to shelter in the tiny enclave where entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble.
Nasrallah was five years old when his family was forced to move from his hometown of Beersheba to Gaza during the “Nakba”, the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that refers to Palestinians’ mass dispossession after Israel was founded in 1948.
He still dreams of returning to that childhood home in the Negev desert.
“Let them send us to the Negev … The Negev can take millions of people and they can stop making problems every two years. This is desperate life,” he said.
Any hope of a new refuge now in the centre of Israel is a distant and desperate one.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which governs Gaza, after the militant group sent fighters rampaging into Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Gaza’s Health Ministry says 12,300 Palestinians, including 5,000 children, have died in the Israeli military operation.
The bombardment has flattened swathes of northern Gaza, while some two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million have been displaced to the south.
Adding to the misery, the weather has turned, sending rain pounding down onto flimsy shelters and tents.
The traumatized population has been on the move since the start of the war, sheltering in hospitals or moving from the north to the south and, in some cases, back again.
An expected Israeli offensive in the south could compel hundreds of thousands who fled Gaza City to uproot yet again, along with residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, compounding an already dire humanitarian crisis.
Many, like Laila Abu Nemer who moved from Gaza City to the south, wonder how her family can survive the Israeli onslaught now in its seventh week.
“There is no bread, if we get a loaf of bread we divide it among the children. There are vegetables, they gave us vegetables but there is no way to cook, so there is no way the children can eat,” she said.
“It feels hard that every day when we are sleeping with the children, they wake up terrified because of the sound (of explosions). There is no safety at all.”
An Israeli advance into southern Gaza may prove more complicated and deadlier than the north, with Hamas militants dug into the Khan Younis region, a power base of Gaza political leader Yahya Sinwar, a senior Israeli source and two top ex-officials said.
Nourhan Saqallah quit Gaza City and moved to Deir Al-Balah after Israel urged people to move to the south. For now she and her family are sheltering in a tent.
“They are threatening they want to empty the area for the ground offensive,” she said. “What will be our fate?”