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With out meals or toys, a Gaza circle of relatives tries to continue to exist

Surrounded by a sea of rubble, the Palestinian Al-Balawi family in northern Gaza hang blankets above the ruins of their home to create a makeshift tent that provides shade from the searing summer heat.

The family are struggling to feed themselves in the Jabalia refugee camp after the nearly nine months of war that have followed Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Gazans are suffering from severe shortages of supplies including food and water alongside Israel’s bombardment of the territory, forcing desperate mothers like Umm Siraj al-Balawi to fight for their survival with no end to the conflict in sight.

“There are no vegetables or fruits. No vitamin intake. When you get sick, you stay in bed for two or three weeks to recover,” the 33-year-old told AFP.

“This war must stop, because it is a war of displacement. It is a war of annihilation.”

Jabalia has been hit particularly hard in recent weeks, with Israeli forces carrying out a massive bombardment campaign, part of a fierce ground offensive in northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.

Israeli forces retrieved the bodies of some hostages from Jabalia and in May reported “perhaps the fiercest” fighting there since the start of the war.

– Displaced from ‘tent to tent’ –

Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as the fighting has raged, with warnings from humanitarian agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.

Vital supplies of food have piled up undistributed on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, a key conduit for aid to enter Gaza.

Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up distribution, while aid organisations including the United Nations say they have been unable to pick up supplies because of a breakdown in civil order in Gaza.

The war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

In retaliation Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, which rules Gaza, and its ensuing bombing and ground campaign have killed at least 37,598 people, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The misery of Gazans has only been exacerbated by Israel’s bombing raids it says are to destroy the infrastructure of Hamas.

On Saturday at least 24 people died after huge strikes on two Gaza City neighbourhoods.

The strikes left several residential complexes in rubble, while the Israeli military said it had targeted two Hamas military infrastructure sites.

“People are getting displaced from house to house, tent to tent, school to school,” said Umm.

“They (Israelis) instructed people to head to Rafah before instructing them to evacuate Rafah. They are doing the same in Khan Yunis. Until when?”

– ‘No house’ –

The Al-Balawi family’s dire situation leaves them scrabbling in a wasteland of debris for items like pillows and food.

“The situation was very very difficult (before the war). And it became worse after the war,” said Umm’s husband Abu, 34.

He pulls a pink cushion from the wreckage of buildings, passing it to his wife who beats it to clear it of dust.

Elsewhere he uses a spade to claw back mounds of rubble before finding a red teddy bear for his young son.

He then leads his children through a destroyed street to get hold of much-sought-after water, before heading back to their tent where his children share some bread and beans from a bowl.

“There is scarcity of food and water, we can barely find food for our children. Diseases have spread in all the areas where the displaced are gathered.”

For their nine-year-old boy Siraj the horrors of war are apparent, despite his age.

“We can’t find clothes. We have no clothes,” he complains.

“There are no toys,” he adds, holding up a damaged doll. “We have no house.”


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