Growing Numbers Of Palestinians Flee On Foot As Israel Says Its Troops Are Battling Inside Gaza City

Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing south on foot with only what they can carry after running out of food and water in the north, a United Nations agency said Wednesday, as Israel said its troops were battling Hamas militants deep inside Gaza City.

Over 70% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have already fled their homes, but the growing numbers making their way south point to an increasingly desperate situation in and around Gaza’s largest city, which has come under heavy Israeli bombardment.

The war triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault inside Israel has entered its second month, with an increasingly dire humanitarian situation inside the besieged Palestinian enclave and no end in sight.

Israel has said its war to end Hamas’ rule and crush its military capabilities will be long and difficult, and that it will maintain some form of control over the coastal enclave indefinitely. Support for the war remains strong inside Israel, where the focus has been on the plight of the more than 240 hostages held by Hamas and other militant groups.

About 15,000 people fled northern Gaza on Tuesday — triple the number that left Monday — according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They are using Gaza’s main north-south highway during a daily four-hour window announced by Israel.

Those fleeing include children, older people and people with disabilities, and most walked with minimal belongings, the U.N. agency said. Some say they had to cross Israeli checkpoints, where they saw people being arrested, while others held their hands in the air and raised white flags while passing Israeli tanks.

Residents reported loud explosions overnight into Wednesday across Gaza City and in its Shati refugee camp, which houses Palestinian families who fled from or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its establishment.

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din Street in Bureij, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din Street in Bureij, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)



“The bombings were heavy and close,” said Mohamed Abed, who lives in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. He said residents panicked when they heard the news late Tuesday that Israeli ground forces were fighting deep inside the city.

The Israeli military said it killed one of Hamas’ leading developers of rockets and other weapons, without saying where he was killed. Hamas has denied that Israeli troops have made any significant gains or entered Gaza City. It was not possible to independently confirm battlefield claims from either side.

Israel is focusing its operations on Gaza City, which was home to some 650,000 people before the war and where the military says Hamas has its central command and a vast labyrinth of tunnels. Hundreds of thousands have heeded Israeli orders to flee the north in recent weeks, even though Israel also routinely strikes what it says are militant targets in the south, often killing civilians.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians remain in the north, many sheltering at hospitals or U.N. schools. The north has been without running water for weeks, and the U.N. agency said the last functioning bakeries shut down Tuesday for lack of fuel, water and flour. Hospitals running low on supplies are performing surgeries — including amputations — without anesthesia, it said.

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