Thousands of Palestinian civilians left the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday in a procession, walking tens of kilometers.
They seek refuge from Israeli airstrikes and fierce ground fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters.
They are not safe either in the South or in central Gaza which is being bombarded, but…
The exodus came within a four-hour curfew announced by Israel, which has told residents to evacuate the north surrounded by its armored forces or risk being drawn into the violence.
On the way to refuge in the midst of shelling
But the central and southern parts of the small, besieged Palestinian enclave also came under fire again, as the war between armed Palestinian groups and Israel entered – not auspiciously – its second month.
Palestinian health officials said an airstrike that hit homes in the Nuseirat refugee camp killed 18 people on Wednesday morning. In Khan Yunis, six people, including a young girl, were killed in an airstrike.
“We were sitting quietly when suddenly an F-16 airstrike landed on a house and blew it up, the whole block, three houses next to each other,” said one witness, Mohammed Abu Daka.
“Civilians, all civilians. An old woman, an old man and there are others who are still missing under the rubble”
What does the Israeli army say?
Gaza City, the main stronghold of the militant group Hamas in the region, is now surrounded by Israeli forces. The army said troops had advanced into the heart of the densely populated city, while Hamas says its fighters have inflicted heavy casualties.
Israel’s chief military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said combat engineers were using explosive devices to destroy a network of Hamas tunnels stretching hundreds of kilometers (miles) under Gaza.
In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had destroyed 130 tunnel shafts so far. “Combat engineers fighting in Gaza destroy enemy weapons and locate, uncover and detonate tunnel shafts,” it said.
Immediately after the bombing…
The airstrikes had also killed a Hamas weapons manufacturer, Mahsin Abu Zina, and several militants, the Israeli military said.
Israeli tanks have met stiff resistance from Hamas fighters who use the tunnels to set up ambushes, according to sources in Hamas and the separate militant group Islamic Jihad. Israel says 33 of its soldiers have been killed.
The UN, the casualties and the ongoing drama
“It is … important to make Israel understand that it is against its interests to see every day the terrible picture of the dramatic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Reuters NEXT conference on Wednesday.
“This does not help Israel in relation to world public opinion,” he added.
Palestinian officials said 10,569 people have now been killed, 40% of them children. The level of death and suffering is “hard to fathom,” UN health spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in Geneva.
Thousands of Palestinians fleeing the north wearily made their way in a long line past damaged and bomb-scarred buildings, witnesses said.
The Israeli army had told them that they should move south of the Wadi Gaza wetland along the main Salah al-Din road. Huge numbers of displaced people from Gaza’s 2.3 million population are already crammed into schools, hospitals and other places in the south.