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Smoke rises following Israeli bombardments in Khan Younis in January PA

Israel hits southern city of Rafah crowded with hundreds of thousands of refugees

Rafah formerly had a population of 200,000 but is now holding more than half of Gaza’s total population of over two million.

ISRAEL HIT THE crowded border town of Rafah in the early hours of this morning, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled to while escaping conflict further north.

Rafah, which has a border crossing with Egypt, formerly had a population of 200,000 but is now holding more than half of Gaza’s total population of over two million, according to the World Health Organisation.

Gaza’s health ministry said more than 100 people were killed overnight and an AFP journalist reported hearing powerful explosions shortly after midnight. 

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expressed concern over the bombardment of the southern city of Khan Yunis, which has pushed more and more people further south in recent days.

“Most are living in makeshift structures, tents or out in the open,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said. “Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next.”

Around 30% of Gaza’s structures have been affected by the war, according to satellite data collected in January and released yesterday. 

The region faced winter storms and heavy rain yesterday, with some people wearing hazmat suits left over from the Covid-19 pandemic to try to protect themselves from the weather.

Abdulkarim Misbah, a 32-year-old father seeking refuge in Rafah with his family, first left his home in the northern Jabalia refugee camp to go to the southern city of Khan Yunis, but had to flee again due to the attacks on the city.

“We escaped last week from death in Khan Yunis, without bringing anything with us. We didn’t find a place to stay. We slept on the streets the first two nights. The women and children slept in a mosque,” he said.

The family later received a donated tent and set it up beside the Egyptian border.

“My four children are shivering from the cold. They feel sick and unwell all the time,” he said. 

Israel has killed at least 27,131 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, since October.

Around 17,000 children in Gaza are now unaccompanied or separated from their parents due to the war, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

“Each one has a heartbreaking story of loss and grief,” spokesperson Jonathan Crickx said. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to travel to the Middle East again in the coming days to push for a new deal of an exchange of Israeli hostages for a pause in the conflict. 

Qatar said this week that there were hopes of “good news” about a fresh pause to the fighting “in the next couple of weeks” and that discussions had arrived at an agreement for exchanging hostages and prisoners.

However, a Hamas source told news agency AFP that there was “no agreement on the framework of the agreement yet” and that “the Qatari statement is rushed and not true”.

Hamas’s position was that an initial six-week halt to the fighting and more aid deliveries into Gaza would then allow for “women, children and sick men over 60″ to be freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. There would also be “negotiations around the withdrawal of Israeli forces”. 

Additional reporting by AFP