Israel’s widening air and ground offensive in southern Gaza has displaced tens of thousands more Palestinians and worsened the territory’s already dire humanitarian conditions, with the fighting preventing the distribution of food, water and medicine outside a sliver of southern Gaza and new military evacuation orders squeezing people into ever-smaller areas of the south.
As the focus of the ground offensive moves down the Gaza Strip and into the second-largest city of Khan Younis, it is further shrinking the area where Palestinians can seek safety and pushing large numbers of people, many of whom have been forced to flee multiple times, towards the sealed-off border with Egypt.
While Israeli forces ordered residents to evacuate Khan Younis, much of the city’s population remains in place, along with large numbers who were displaced from northern Gaza and are unable to leave or are wary of fleeing to the disastrously overcrowded far south.
The United Nations says some 1.87 million people — more than 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million — have already fled their homes. Almost the entire population is now crowded into southern and central Gaza, dependent on aid.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that public order in Gaza could soon break down amid the complete collapse of the humanitarian system.
“The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.”
Bushra Khalidi, a Ramallah-based legal expert and rights campaigner with international aid charity Oxfam, warned that Israel’s push to relocate Palestinians in Gaza to a small area in the south is making it impossible to deliver aid and driving up the risk of disease.
“Squeezing people into a space that is basically as big as London’s Heathrow airport … is inhumane and makes it impossible to distribute aid to people,” Khalidi told Al Jazeera. “Gaza was already overpopulated … [now] we’re talking about 1.8 million people in an airport.”
Khalidi added that cholera and gastroenteritis are rapidly spreading due to the congested conditions.
Israel’s offensive has killed at least 16,248 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7. In Israel, the official death toll stands at about 1,200.