They knew it would be perilous, but Jinan Al Salya and his family decided to follow Israeli instructions to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip and head south. They hadn’t gone far Saturday, she said, when they came under fire.
They fled their car before a shell hit it, sending it and their luggage up in flames, Ms. Al Salya, 20, said in a telephone interview. The family returned north on foot, walking among bloodied bodies strewn along the road, she said.
“It was a horror situation,” she said. “I’m completely in shock.” Ms. Al Salya said she believed the shell that hit the car had been fired by an Israeli tank; the Israeli army refused to comment on the incident.
Despite intensifying Israeli ground operations, continued air and artillery strikes, a growing death toll and a critical lack of resources, hundreds of thousands of people remain in northern Gaza. In interviews, some of those who chose to stay say the journey is too dangerous, or that the route has been blocked, or that the south, also bombed, does not seem any safer, despite Israeli assurances. For some, the indignities of forced displacement are too much to bear.
Even some foreign passport holders and dual nationals who are allowed to leave Gaza say they will not take the deadly risks involved in reaching the only exit, the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. This includes Ms Al Salya and her family, who are British Palestinians living in Jabaliya, a refugee camp built just north of Gaza City, where some of the most intense ground fighting has taken place. She said they hope to try again.
Ahmed Ferwana, who lives in Al Shati camp a short distance to the west, is a Swiss national and was on the list of those who could have left the territory last week, but thought he was too dangerous to venture to Rafah, around 25 miles away.
“I don’t want to die with my own legs,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday.
Hours later, his neighborhood was hit by heavy airstrikes that he said lasted all night. Videos on social networks and verified by the New York Times showed that an entire block had been razed. It was the most difficult night of the war, Mr. Ferwana later said. But he nevertheless believed that it was “better to die at home than to die in the street”.
Asked about reports that Israeli troops had fired on civilians on the road, the Israeli military said in a statement that it was targeting Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip and that its strikes on military targets were subject to international law, in particular by taking “possible precautions to mitigate” civilian losses.”
Gaza Interior Minister Iyad al-Bazam said on Tuesday that 900,000 people remained in northern Gaza and that Jabaliya and Al Shati were the most densely populated areas. David Satterfield, US special envoy for humanitarian issues in the Middle East, estimated on Saturday that at least 350,000 to 400,000 people remained in northern Gaza.
Others chose to head south despite the risks. The Israeli military, having cut off northern Gaza from the south, said it was offering four-hour windows for residents to move south safely in recent days.
About 5,000 people took advantage of the lull to make the trip Monday through areas held by Israeli troops, United Nations observers said. They trudged south on foot, carrying their young children and their belongings.
On Tuesday, an Israeli army spokesperson released images on of a caravan of Gazans heading south on foot and waving white flags. The Israeli military also claimed that Hamas was physically obstructing population movements to the south, which Hamas denied.
Others left the north to return. Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam International’s policy manager for the Palestinian territories, said her in-laws were among many people who had abandoned their homes in Gaza City to return. In their case, the place where they had taken refuge, in central Gaza, received an evacuation order from the Israeli army.
“My father-in-law said, ‘I would rather die with dignity in my own home than die in a stranger’s house,’” she said.
Their neighborhood, Rimal, once an elegant part of the city, was hit by airstrikes. They are spending the night at home and camping near Al Shifa Hospital, alongside tens of thousands of other displaced people, Ms Khalidi said.
Many Palestinians hoped the hospital and adjacent area would be spared, but Israeli strikes have also taken place there, including one on Friday that hospital head Dr. Mohammad Abu Salmiya said killed 13 people. . The top floor of a hospital building was hit on Monday, killing a child and injuring 10 others, he said.
Israel has accused Hamas of operating a command center under Al Shifa, which is the territory’s largest hospital; Hamas denies this.
“We will not leave the hospital no matter what,” said Dr. Abu Salmiya.
Israel has besieged Gaza since attacks by Hamas in Israel on October 7, allowing only limited deliveries of food, water and medical supplies through the Rafah crossing – far less than humanitarian groups say is necessary.
Conditions are worst in the north, where almost no aid has been delivered. And Israel has not allowed any fuel to enter Gaza, despite its importance for running water and hospital equipment, the territory’s only power plant, delivery trucks, ambulances and generators.
Ms. Khalidi stressed that without a ceasefire, there was no way to deliver aid safely anywhere in the territory.
“How are aid workers supposed to provide aid when there is bombing, roads are damaged and we have direct evidence of indiscriminate attacks? she says.
Arijeta Lajka, Riley MellenAnd Iyad Abuheweila reports contributed.