Palestinians fleeing south in Gaza describe unbearable situation in Gaza City: ‘Nothing is left’

Gaza and Jerusalem

Thousands of Palestinians fled northern Gaza on Wednesday, traveling miles on foot through the violence-hit enclave in a growing exodus prompted by Israel’s intensified ground and air campaign.

Streams of people – women, children, the elderly and disabled – made their way down Salah Eddin Street, one of the two north-south highways in Gaza, along an evacuation corridor announced by the Israeli Defense Forces.

A teenage girl compared the mass movement to the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, the Arabic term for the expulsion of Palestinians from their cities during the founding of Israel.

It was the fifth day in a row that the IDF opened an evacuation window, and the number of people fleeing south has increased every day.

The UN said 2,000 had fled south on Sunday, rising to 15,000 on Tuesday. The Israeli government said 50,000 Gazans left via the evacuation corridor on Wednesday. That number could not be independently confirmed, but a CNN reporter on the scene said the number of departures was higher than on Tuesday.

Israel has stepped up its offensive inside Gaza after the October 7 attacks that left 1,400 people in Israel dead.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed on Tuesday that IDF troops were in the “heart of Gaza City” targeting Hamas infrastructure and commanders there. It is unclear where exactly Israel is fighting.

“Gaza is the biggest terror stronghold that humanity has ever built. This whole city is one big terror base. Underground they have miles of tunnels that connect to hospitals and schools,” Gallant said. “We continue to dismantle that capability.”

The IDF has been bombarding Gaza for weeks, saying it hit 14,000 terror targets in the densely packed enclave.

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One man, who did not give his name, told a CNN reporter in southern Gaza that he and his neighbors had lived through “horrific days.” He said they had left their homes in northern Gaza and moved several times, but that it was impossible to escape the airstrikes.

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“This war left nothing safe – not churches, not mosques or anything. Today they dropped the leaflet ordering us to go to the supposedly safe area. Now we are outside this area of ​​Wadi Gaza and we still hear bombardment. There is no safe place in Gaza.”

“We are seven families. All our houses are gone. There is nothing left. We could not take anything – no clothes, no water, nothing. The road here was very difficult. If something falls, you must not pick it up. You must don’t slow down. Dead bodies everywhere.”

Baraa, a 16-year-old girl, said she had been walking for a long time.

“It felt like the Nakba [catastrophe] of 2023,” she said, using the Arabic term for the expulsion of Palestinians from their cities during the founding of Israel.

“We passed people who were torn to pieces, dead bodies. We walked next to the tanks. The Israelis called us and they asked people to take off their clothes and throw away their belongings. Children were very tired because there was no water.”

CNN has asked the IDF about the claim that evacuees were made to remove clothes and get rid of belongings.

“We came under heavy fire and had no choice but to leave our area,” Hani Bakhit said. “We ended up using donkey carts because there were no cars, fuel or drinking water available. Nothing is left for us. They forced us to leave by cutting off all available resources,” he said, referring to Israeli forces.

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“People who have nothing to do with the resistance are being bombed, so they are fleeing to the south,” Khader Hamad said. “They are all children, newborns, women.”

Maxar Technologies/Reuters

A satellite image shows groups of people walking along Salah a-Din road as they evacuate south from Gaza City.

Ahmed Zakot/Sipa USA/AP

A Palestinian woman carries her passport and ID as she flees south on November 7.

People carried few possessions in their arms or on their backs. Some sat on carts pulled by donkeys. On Tuesday, some could be seen carrying white flags and holding up identity documents.

“Donkey carts are the only means of transport left,” said Abu Ida. “There is neither solar energy nor fuel left for cars, but even those who have cars are afraid to use them. I can’t walk because I have diabetes, there’s no way I can walk on my feet.”

One woman, who did not give her name, said “we are being destroyed.”

“Nobody cares about us. Maybe we’re safe now, but I’m not sure about those who are still behind. I don’t know where my family is. My siblings are behind me. Out of fear, I couldn’t look behind. Not right, not left.

“We came from Al Shifa [Hospital], and we saw death coming. Dead bodies, destruction everywhere.”