Ahmad Fouad Alkhatib was at home in San Francisco when the panicked calls started. An Israeli airstrike on Thursday hit his family’s home in Rafah, the so-called safe zone of the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge from the war.
Soon, his phone was flooded with news footage of the house where he would go to family barbecues and play with his grandmother’s ducks. He watched as neighbors scrambled against its smoldering ruins, searching for survivors.
Instead, they found at least 31 bodies, including two women in their 70s, several in their 60s and nine children between the ages of 3 months and 9 years. Still missing. He learned the names of the dead through texts and Facebook updates that spanned hours and days.
A writer and vocal critic of Hamas, Mr. Alkhatib, 33, said: “It was very painful and nauseating. Anxiety and fear. These are people I grew up with. It was a family home.”
Mr. The strike, which killed several members of al-Qadib’s family, was one of several in recent weeks where the Israeli military has told people to flee airstrikes, questioning the advice and safety of those who followed.
The war began on October 7, when gunmen led by Hamas attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages. Since then, the Israeli military has waged a massive air campaign and ground offensive that has displaced 1.9 million people, about 85 percent of Gaza’s population, according to the United Nations. According to Gazan health officials, the campaign killed nearly 20,000 people and wiped out entire branches of family trees. It also destroyed the Strip’s civilian infrastructure and economy and crippled hospitals.
Azmi Keshawi, a researcher at the International Crisis Group, an independent research organization, said he witnessed three airstrikes there last week: one on Sunday that killed 21 people, one on Monday that killed 11 and one that killed 15 on Tuesday.
“The situation at the Rafah stadium is not so calm,” he said.
Israel Defense Forces spokesman Nir Dinar said, “Israel has taken significant steps to urge civilians in the northern Gaza Strip to move to safer areas in southern Gaza, as well as taking possible measures to mitigate accidental harm to civilians and civilian property during its operations.”
He declined to answer questions about the airstrikes in Rafah, but said “unfortunately Hamas has embedded itself in safe areas and has chosen to do so out of consideration for the safety of the residents of Gaza.”
Before the war, the province of Rafah – about a third the size of Brooklyn – had a population of about 260,000. But in recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have fled cities in the north, and there are signs that public order is beginning to break down.
Last week, the UN Filipe Lazzarini, head of the Relief and Works Agency, told reporters that during a recent visit to Rafah, Gazan stopped aid trucks, checked their food and saw them devouring it on the spot.
“That’s how desperate and hungry they are,” he said. “Everywhere you go, people are hungry, desperate and scared.”
Researcher Mr. Keshawi said he fled his home in Gaza City, north of the enclave, and now lives in a tent along the Rafah corridor with his family. He said no one in Rafah, which borders Egypt, was “ready to receive so many people”.
“The living conditions in the settlements are very miserable,” he said. “They have a lot of diseases. They have to stand in line for hours to go to the bathroom. There is no sanitation, there are few UN services to clean up the garbage. Dirty water flows between the tents.
Dec. On 14 Mr. Dozens of people were inside and many more in the backyard when the airstrike hit Alqatib’s family home. He said it was a reflection of Rafa’s poor conditions and the generosity of his uncle, Dr Abdullah Shehada, 69, and his aunt, Zainab, 73. Both were killed in the strike.
“He opened the house to dozens of people,” Mr. Alkhatib said, “If a building is standing, people are entering, and that is a typical feature of what is happening now in southern Gaza.”
His aunt is a retired UN school teacher, and his uncle is a well-known doctor. Among the dead were his aunts, 76-year-old Fatma Nazman and Hind Nazman, and another uncle Hasan Nazman. Among the dead were several children, including her 3-month-old cousin Ellen and her 4-month-old cousin Ayla.
Mr. Alqatif said he knew no justification for the strike: the house was not being used by Hamas.
“I say from my heart, nothing happened there,” Mr. Al Qadib said. “Don’t destroy an entire house and kill everyone in it, even if a Hamas man passes by.”