Gazans Flee Jabaliya as Israel’s Military Launches New Offensive

The northern town of Jabaliya had already come under fierce attacks from the Israeli military earlier in the war, killing many civilians and demolishing large parts of the suburb. So, as Israeli ground forces moved to other parts of the Gaza Strip and military strikes focused elsewhere, residents thought they had experienced their worst days.

But last week, the Israeli military dropped leaflets again over Jabaliya, where tens of thousands of people are living, ordering them to leave as it prepared to launch a renewed offensive.

“When the Israelis dropped the leaflets, people were terrified, especially given what they experienced previously,” said Iman Abu Jalhum, 23, who graduated from medical school two months before the war began and has been volunteering in hospitals treating the wounded. “We thought given that we have already been attacked that we were safe; the Israelis have already been here.”

Soon after the leaflets dropped, so too did the bombs, she said. Ms. Abu Jalhum, her 16-year-old sister and her parents fled their home under bombardment. She only had time to throw a few items of clothing into a bag and put on her prayer shawl.

Her father, who has back issues, struggled to walk along the road. Eventually, they found a donkey cart to take him the rest of the way, a few miles south.

Israel said it had renewed the offensive in Jabaliya on May 11 because Hamas was trying to reassemble its infrastructure and operatives in the area. Hamas accused Israel of “escalating its aggression against civilians all across Gaza” and vowed to continue fighting.

At least 15 civilians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Saturday in Jabaliya and 30 others wounded, according to Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency. Ambulance and emergency crews have been unable to reach the area to rescue the injured and retrieve the bodies, it reported.

The Israeli military on Saturday said it had “engaged and eliminated” Hamas fighters in Jabaliya in a number of battles and located several tunnel shafts. Hamas said that its fighters destroyed an Israeli tank south of Jabaliya.

Ms. Abu Jalhum and her family are among at least 64,000 people who were displaced from Jabaliya and a neighboring town in the past week, according to the main U.N. agency aiding Palestinians, UNRWA.

They are now sheltering a few miles south in a bombed-out building, where the smell of dead bodies that have not yet been recovered hangs in the air. Strikes still hit nearby, she says, but there are fewer explosions and no clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters.

On Thursday, Ms. Abu Jalhum tried to go back to Jabaliya to check on her home, walking for 45 minutes along streets covered in debris. But as she neared her neighborhood, explosions were hitting too close to continue, she said.

“Yes, we have some courage, but we’re still afraid,” she said. “You might see martyrs killed in the street that no one can reach. You’re afraid there could be a sniper. The drones might target anyone there walking in the streets.”

Her family has had to flee several times during the course of the seven-month war, and they have always gone to stay with relatives in the same area. This time, the offensive is more expansive and intense, she said.

“We just want to go home,” she said, adding, “We’re so exhausted. You see it in our faces. We want to cry at times, but we’re unable to.”

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