Palestinians flee Gaza battles on anniversary of 1948 'Nakba'

UN agencies warn that the latest fighting has newly displaced nearly one quarter of the Gaza Strip's population this month


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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Wed 15 May 2024, 3:55 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 May 2024, 5:03 PM

Tens of thousands of civilians fled heavy fighting in Gaza as Palestinians on Wednesday marked 76 years since their mass displacement during Israel's wartime creation which they call the Nakba or "catastrophe".

Israeli forces have bombed around Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah, but clashes have also flared again in northern and central areas which Israeli troops first entered months ago.

The upsurge in urban combat in besieged Gaza has fuelled US warnings that Israel risks being bogged down in a counter-insurgency operation for years as guerrilla fighters stage hit-and-run attacks.

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US President Joe Biden has threatened to withhold some arms deliveries over Netanyahu's insistence on attacking Rafah, the last Gaza city so far spared a ground invasion, which is packed with civilians.

But Biden's administration has also stressed it will continue to support Israel's security and informed Congress on Tuesday of a new $1 billion weapons package for Israel, official sources told AFP.

The European Union urged Israel to end its military operation in Rafah "immediately", warning that failure to do so would "inevitably put a heavy strain" on ties with the bloc, which is Israel's biggest trade partner and the main aid donor for the Palestinian territories.

UN agencies warn that the latest fighting has newly displaced nearly one quarter of the Gaza Strip's population this month -- including about 450,000 people from Rafah and 100,000 from northern Gaza.

The sight of desperate families carrying their scant belongings through the ruins of war-scarred cities has evoked for many the events of 1948, when around 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

"Your Independence Day is our catastrophe," protesters chanted in Israel on the eve of Nakba Day at a rally joined by many Arab-Israelis, descendants of Palestinians who stayed on their land and now live as a minority in Israel.

The decades-long conflict exploded into the Gaza war after Hamas launched their attack on Israel on October 7, sparking a military response that has devastated the coastal territory.

Hamas declared in a Nakba Day statement that "the ongoing suffering of millions of refugees inside Palestine and in the diaspora is directly attributed to the Zionist occupation".

The group said that "their legitimate right to return to their homes from which they were displaced cannot be compromised or relinquished".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring home the hostages that Hamas are still holding.

An ardent supporter of Israel, Biden has clashed with Netanyahu as a wave of pro-Palestinian campus protests have heightened election-year political pressure on the Democratic president.

Washington has also repeatedly urged Israel to work on a post-war plan for Gaza and supports the goal of a two-state solution, which Netanyahu and his far-right allies strongly oppose.

Israel's military retaliation has killed at least 35,173 people, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine in parts of Gaza.

The war broke out after Hamas' attack killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Hamas also seized about 250 hostages, 128 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 36 the military says are dead.


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