As Israeli tanks move into central Gaza, edging on Khan Yunis, the people there are pushed into smaller and smaller spaces, crowded together, seeking shelter from missiles that seem to rain down on every part of the Strip. Throughout its offensive in and on Gaza, the Israeli army pushed a narrative of “safety” in the south of the Strip while they carried out their “targeted operations” against Hamas in the north.
The south no longer 'safe'
As Reuters reported today, safety in the south is an illusion, as even the furthest district south, Rafah, was hit by airstrikes overnight. Rafah was framed as the place to flee to, with several regional countries criticizing this maneuver as an attempt by Israel to expel Palestinians from the enclave and into the Sinai desert. Now, even Rafah isn’t safe. The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), Thomas White, wrote in a post on X, “People are pleading for advice on where to find safety. We have nothing to tell them,” and a UNICEF spokesperson also wrote on X saying “bombs fall every ten minutes” in the south of the Gaza Strip.
Reuters' journalists in Rafah described a harrowing scene in which men try to extract the body of a toddler from under slabs of concrete with only their bare hands. The rubble piled high as a result of a strike that “destroyed a residential block and left a yawning crater as deep as a multi-story building,” they observed. As quoted and cited countless times by Palestinians, NGOs, UN spokespeople, politicians and observers alike, “there is no safe place in Gaza.”
Israeli army's intentions
In a statement today, the Israeli army contradicted the accusations made against it, saying Israel is not interested in expelling Palestinians into Egypt. “We’re not looking to evacuate people there," said its spokesperson Jonathan Conricus. “We have asked civilians to evacuate the battlefield and designated a specific humanitarian zone inside the Gaza Strip,” he said, referring to the coastal area of al-Mawasi. "We know perfectly well that space and access are limited, and that's why it's crucial to get the support of international humanitarian organizations to help set up infrastructure in the al-Mawasi area.”
In addition to targeting UN shelters in Gaza with missile strikes, Israel has also enforced crippling restrictions on aid entering the enclave.
On Friday, the army dropped leaflets throughout the Strip with QR codes that lead to a website displaying a map of Gaza divided into hundreds of small blocks. The map was designed to facilitate forced evacuations from areas where the Israeli army intends to carry out military operations. Khan Yunis, the second-most southern district in Gaza, just north of Rafah, is the latest target of such intentions. AFP reported thousands of residents fleeing on foot following heavy shelling around Khan Yunis city. Leaflets dropped by the Israeli army in certain neighborhoods in Khan Yunis warned that a "terrible attack is imminent.”