Newspaper article International New York Times

Few Havens in Gaza Strip for Palestinians ; Warnings from Israel to Leave Targeted Areas Are Little Use to Residents

Newspaper article International New York Times

Few Havens in Gaza Strip for Palestinians ; Warnings from Israel to Leave Targeted Areas Are Little Use to Residents

Article excerpt

Civilian casualties from Israel's invasion are mounting in Gaza, whose residents face agonizing decisions over what is more dangerous, going or staying.

As civilian casualties have mounted in the Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel's military has reminded the world that it warned people living in targeted areas to leave. The response from Palestinians here has been unanimous: Where should we go?

United Nations shelters are already brimming, and some Palestinians fear they are not safe; one shelter was bombed by Israel in a previous conflict. Many Gaza residents have sought refuge with relatives, but with large extended families commonly consisting of dozens of relatives, many homes in the shrinking areas considered safe are already packed.

Perhaps most important, the vast majority of Gazans cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make this narrow coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike any other place in the world.

In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain called Gaza "an open-air prison," drawing criticism from the Israeli government. But in reality, the vast majority of Gaza residents are effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border.

A 25-mile-long rectangle just a few miles wide, and one of the most densely populated places in the world, Gaza is surrounded by concrete walls and fences along its northern and eastern boundaries with Israel and its southern border with Egypt.

Even in what pass for ordinary times here, Israel permits very few Gazans to enter its territory, citing security concerns because suicide bombers and other militants from Gaza have killed Israeli civilians. The restrictions over the years have forced students to give up scholarships abroad, prevented lawyers from visiting clients and professors from attending conferences, and caused patients to delay medical treatment while awaiting special permission.

Egypt in recent months has also severely curtailed Gazans' ability to travel, opening its border crossing with the territory for only 17 days this year. During the current fighting between Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza, only those with Egyptian or foreign passports or special permission have been allowed to exit.

Even the Mediterranean Sea to the west provides no escape. Israel restricts boats from Gaza to three nautical miles offshore. And Gaza -- part of the Palestinian Authority, which also includes the West Bank -- has no airport.

So while three million Syrians have fled their country during the war there, more and more of Gaza's 1.7 million people have been moving away from the edges of the strip and crowding into the already-packed center of Gaza City.

On Sunday, families were fleeing artillery barrages on foot, or being killed in their homes, as the Israeli military pushed into the Shejaiya neighborhood of the city in an operation the military says aims to locate and destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to enter Israel and carry out attacks. …

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