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No place to hide

‘Just after I spoke to you on the phone the other day, we had to leave,’ says Mohammed. ‘The Israelis were shelling all around us, and so many of the local people fled. We left too, but we had nowhere else to go but the school down the street.’  

 Mohammed Al Majdawali lives in Jabaliya refugee camp. He's a filmmaker and also volunteers for the Middle East Children's Alliance, which works with children across Gaza. I called him a few days ago to see if he was OK under these horrific circumstances. ‘I can send you photos from Gaza,’ he told me earnestly down the crackly phone. ‘If you tell me who you want to speak to, I can go and find them. Anything you need to help you document this holocaust, just ask me.’

 But by the time he called me back later the same day, Mohammed and his family were sheltering in a local Jabaliya school which has been transformed into a UN shelter for internally displaced Gazans. He and his family are now in Al Fakhoura school, where 40 civilians were killed last week after the Israeli military fired four artillery shells towards the school. After the carnage at Al Fakhoura who the hell would choose to shelter there? But Mohammed and his family, like the hundreds of other civilians who fled the same neighbourhood, have nowhere else to hide.

 The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the biggest UN agency working in Gaza, is doing its utmost to assist the people of Jabaliya, but conditions at Al Fakhoura school are rough. ‘There are more than 50 people in each classroom.’ says Mohammed. ‘Some have no electricity, and we have nothing to sleep on but the floor.’ He says most of the new occupants at the school are women and children, but some distraught parents have been out on the streets, searching for their kids who went missing amidst the chaos and mass panic of people fleeing for their lives.

Thousands of people across the Gaza Strip are now fleeing for their lives. UNRWA, which has turned schools into shelters for the internally displaced across Gaza, estimates more than 35,500 people are now taking refuge in these shelters, and other UN agencies working in Gaza say ‘growing pockets’ of the civilian population are trapped in their homes. One of the most frightening reports of civilians being trapped in their homes has come from the Gaza City-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which has continued to report on the human rights situation every day throughout this blood bath. On 13 January, PCHR reported its staff had received many phone calls from villagers trapped inside Khza’a village, east of Khan Younis, pleading for help. The villagers said local families were being detained inside their homes by the Israeli military, and Israeli troops were demolishing houses while families were trapped inside them, and firing towards them if they tried to escape.   

The death toll inside Gaza is now around 1,054, and more than 4,000 people have been maimed and injured. PCHR estimates that 85 per cent of the dead are civilians, and 35 per cent of them are children. Last night Hamas finally formally accepted a proposal from Egypt for an immediate ceasefire. The proposal calls for the Israeli military to withdraw immediately from the Gaza Strip, and for the opening of Gaza's borders - but Israel has said its ‘operation’ inside Gaza will continue nonetheless.

As I write this blog, Israeli troops have now advanced well into Gaza City. Staff at the Al Aqsa Hospital in Gaza City report the hospital is now surrounded by Israeli troops, and the hospital has received more 150 phone calls from local people, including civilians who've been injured and are now trapped in the area. The horrific death toll in Gaza is going to rise as the Israeli military launches its final massive assaults. This is not a war against the people of Gaza, it is a massacre.

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