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In Rafah: More than 900,000 flee and UN halts delivery of food aid


More than 900,000 people have fled Rafah, according to the United Nations. And the U.N. is now warning that its warehouses have run out of food in the southern Gaza City, where Israeli forces are battling Hamas. NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi and NPR Gaza producer Anas Baba report on the scenes in Rafah.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Loaded high with blankets and gas canisters, trucks and donkey carts make their way out of the city of Rafah. The roads are unpaved and muddy. The buildings are dilapidated, many destroyed in Israeli airstrikes. Many evacuees have been displaced many, many times. Israel has defied warnings by the U.S. and other countries that a major operation will devastate civilians in Rafah, so the military dropped leaflets ordering Palestinians to evacuate. NPR Gaza producer Anas Baba is one of those people who fled to Rafah. He spent the last two weeks reporting there as these major developments unfold. During one of these nights, a bomb strikes near Baba's home.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: Whoa. The missile exploded next to my house.

AL-SHALCHI: Anas runs out to see what happened.


BABA: Those are my neighbors. I know them.

AL-SHALCHI: It turns out to be the home of a family displaced from the south. People climb the rubble and mangled cars to pull out the injured.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in non-English language).

AL-SHALCHI: A man shouts out for an ambulance.


AL-SHALCHI: Bodies bloodied, they are bundled into the back of ambulances, men shouting to praise God and hurry up.


AL-SHALCHI: Health officials in Gaza said three people died and 14 were injured in that strike. Some of the injured in Rafah are sent to the Kuwaiti hospital, one of the only functioning medical facilities in the area. Anas Baba paid it a visit.

BABA: This is an interview with Dr. Jamal al-Hams, the director of the Kuwaiti Specialist Center - Hospital in Rafah city.

JAMAL AL-HAMS: The problem is where to send the cases after they have been stabilized because now we don't have admission departments.

AL-SHALCHI: The Kuwaiti hospital is a first stop for patients, but with most nearby hospitals ordered by the Israeli military to evacuate, there are few other places to send the injured. So far, al-Hams says they didn't receive an order from the Israeli military to leave.

AL-HAMS: So long we are in a safe area, according to the map which the Israeli authorities have declared, we will continue our service and we will continue receiving the patients and injured people.

AL-SHALCHI: While hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pick up their belongings and flee, many civilians in Rafah just don't have the money to leave and say they've left their fate up to God.

AYA KATHARINA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: Anas Baba met Aya Katharina (ph) at an abandoned school building that has become a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Rafah. Ragged clothing hangs out to dry from the windows and balconies of classrooms. Children play in the bombed-out courtyard, garbage strewn around them. Katharina ended up at the school after being displaced about six times.

KATHARINA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: She says, "I don't have the means to evacuate again. If I want to get a container to load my stuff in, I need at least 1,800 shekels." That's close to $500. Katharina is a nurse. She got married just a month before the war started.

KATHARINA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: She was four months pregnant. But the constant displacement was hard on her body, and she miscarried. Unlike more than half the population sheltering in Rafah, Katharina and her family chose to stay. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says it's running out of food and on Tuesday said it was suspending food aid delivery in Rafah. UNRWA's director of planning in Rafah, Sam Rose, said they had no other choice.

SAM ROSE: The decision was taken essentially because we are out of supplies. We do not have anything in our warehouses.

AL-SHALCHI: And with these conditions and the threat of Israeli attacks, people like Katharina may eventually be left no choice but to flee.

With Anas Baba in Rafah, Gaza, I'm Hadeel Al-Shalchi, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENAO SONG, "LIFELINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.