Gaza Nakba: Palestinians flee their homes amid Israeli airstrikes and fear of a second catastrophe

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Thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes in northern Gaza and Gaza City, following an ultimatum from the Israeli military to evacuate within 24 hours or face intense airstrikes. The mass displacement has evoked painful memories of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, that befell the Palestinian people in 1948, when they were expelled from their lands by the newly created state of Israel.

The Israeli military said it issued the warning to civilians in order to minimize casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, as it plans to target Hamas  and rocket launchers in the densely populated areas. It said it had dropped leaflets, sent text messages and made phone calls to urge residents to leave.

But many Palestinians said they had nowhere to go, as the borders with Egypt and Israel are closed, and other parts of Gaza are also under attack. Some sought shelter in schools run by the United Nations, while others stayed with relatives or friends in safer areas. Some decided to remain in their homes, hoping to survive the bombardment.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Israeli offensive as a “war crime” and warned of a “second Nakba” in Gaza. He called on the international community to intervene and stop the aggression. He also appealed for humanitarian aid and medical supplies for the besieged enclave, where hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of wounded.

The Nakba, or “catastrophe”, refers to the expulsion of 760,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war that followed the declaration of Israel’s independence. According to some estimates, Israel destroyed 531 Palestinian towns and villages, and killed 15,000 unarmed Palestinians during the Nakba1. The refugees and their descendants, who now number nearly 6 million, have been denied the right to return to their homes by Israel.

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