Monday

21st Jun 2021

'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates

  • Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

UN workers in Gaza feel at risk from airstrikes, as violence continues to spread across Israel and occupied territories.

"There was an airstrike just a few minutes ago in the neighbourhood next to my home, about 200 metres from where I live. They [Israeli warplanes] shelled a house, killing a man and his wife and another person," Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNWRA, a UN refugee agency in Gaza, told EUobserver on Tuesday (11 May).

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"There's a dramatic change in what's going on," he said.

"In the past, they used to warn people [before striking their building], but now they're just hitting houses directly without any warning," he added.

"People are staying off the streets, but Gaza is the most densely populated place in the world - if you throw a stone here, you will injure somebody," he noted.

"There's no place to hide. Nowhere to escape," he said.

Asked if he or other UNWRA workers were at risk, Abu Hasna said: "Yes. It's dangerous".

But staff were still providing primary healthcare and distributing food to the 1.2 million people in Gaza who depended on them to eat, he added.

"We have no alternative. It's our job," he said.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group which rules Gaza, was also continuing to fire rockets into Israel, he noted.

"We can see them flying overhead," he said, as Hamas targeted high-rise apartment blocks in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The three deaths of which Abu Hasna spoke brought the number of Palestinian fatalities in Gaza to 29 on Tuesday evening.

But by Wednesday morning, the figure rose again, to 35, with over 140 people injured, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Israeli soldiers also shot dead a Palestinian protester in the occupied town of Hebron, Israeli media reported.

And five Israelis have been killed by rocket fire since Monday, media said.

The Gaza fighting erupted following street clashes in Jerusalem, which began over Israeli plans to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in the Holy City.

"We're just arriving at Sheikh Jarrah," Inès Abdelrazek, an activist with the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, a Ramallah-based NGO, told EUobserver on Tuesday evening.

"There's always lots of police here, but now they've locked off the streets on all sides to prevent solidarity protesters from coming in," she said.

Solidarity protests by Israeli Arabs in the town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, also turned into riots on Tuesday night, injuring 12 people.

Deeply worrying

For its part, the EU foreign service in Brussels told press the same day the situation was "deeply worrying".

The Hamas rocket-fire was "totally unacceptable", an EU spokesman said.

"All sides must uphold international humanitarian law ... this latest escalation just illustrates how necessary it is to restart negotiations" on a two-state solution, he added.

But EU diplomats on the ground in Israel were doing little more than "intensified reporting" of events, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem, Lod, and Hebron protests were being organised by young Palestinians on social media, making it hard for diplomats to find interlocutors who could call them off.

"This is spontaneous ... it's about young people who are thirsty for freedom," the PIPD's Abdelrazek said.

And popular feeling in Gaza was no different, UNWRA's Abu Hasna added.

"Unemployment among young people in Gaza is 80 percent ... there's no dream, no tomorrow in Gaza. People feel they have nothing to lose," he said.

But for Israeli authorities and commentators, Hamas' political calculations were also playing a role.

Its rocket-fire came not just in solidarity over the Sheikh-Jarrah clashes, but also after Fatah, its rival political faction, recently called off elections in the Palestinian territories, which it looked like they would lose.

"This is Hamas' way of wreaking vengeance on Fatah and showing Hamas as the main proponent of the Palestinian people's struggle," an Israeli source, who asked not to be named, told this website.

Daily violence

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday fighting could "continue for some time."

The Israeli army also said it was in the "early stages" of planned strikes on Gaza.

But UNWRA's Abu Hasna said a ground incursion was unlikely because there was a caretaker government in Israel, with no one to take responsibility for a major escalation.

His best guess was the exchange of rockets and air-strikes would stop in a few days.

But normal life in Gaza was so abnormal it would erupt again before long, he said.

"The EU should pressure Israel to lift the blockade [on Gaza]. Without this, you will see a round of fighting every couple of years," he noted.

And for the PIPD's Abdelrazek, the EU call for a return to talks on a two-state solution was "disconnected from reality", because Israel was more interested in imposing "apartheid" on Palestinians.

"Suddenly, we're back in the media ... but when things calm down and the media leave, we'll go back to what is daily violence of low intensity," she said.

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