Ayman, who lives in London, Ont. but was born in Gaza, was visiting his siblings in the Gaza Strip before the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack. He ended up experiencing 35 days “under attack” before he could finally get out. He did not provide his last name when he spoke to reporters at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Thursday
“Nothing safe in Gaza. Nothing,” he said. “No place safe. Every place, they can shoot it.”
His wife and four children are in London, where he said he plans to return shortly, but he said his siblings remain in Gaza and have fled to the southern part of the area. However, he is concerned when he will next see them.
Reports from Reuters and The Associated Press cite residents in Gaza’s south saying Israeli forces had dropped leaflets warning Palestinians to flee part of the southern region, signalling a potential expansion of their offensive to areas where hundreds of thousands of people already fled when evacuation orders were made for the north.
“I’m upset,” Ayman said. “I’m very sad. All the country destroyed. I don’t know what will happen to my house, my brothers, my sisters. Maybe they will destroy everything.”
The conflict is now in its sixth week and was triggered by Hamas’ wide-ranging attack into southern Israel in which Israeli officials say militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured some 240 men, women and children. Israel responded with a weeks-long air campaign and a ground invasion of northern Gaza, vowing to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
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More than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Hamas-run Gaza health authorities, with another 2,700 having been reported missing. The official count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
On Thursday, fuel ran out leaving telephone and internet services severely compromised, according to the main Palestinian provider.
For Fawzy Manaa, it means communicating with family members back home is all but impossible as he watches images from the region on his computer show his childhood memories reduced to rubble.
“There’s nowhere to go and hide and know for sure that you’re safe,” he said in an interview with Global News. “And people are constantly moving. You’re safe today. Tomorrow, that may not be a safe place to go.”
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Like Ayman, Manaa’s family mainly lived in the north but fled their home last month ahead of the anticipated ground offensive by Israeli troops.
In the weeks since, communication has been sporadic.
“Sometimes for days we’re unable to contact anybody,” he said. “Other times, we have to ask about our family through other people that we know.”
And it’s through that communication that Manaa says he’s learned of the struggles family members have faced as they’ve dealt with blackouts of electricity and food shortages.
He said his aunts, who were living with 40 family members in a two-bedroom apartment, have found a few tomatoes and half-dozen bread loaves — no longer enough to feed so many mouths.
Without power, it’s also meant some people have had to resort to unorthodox methods to heat food.
“People go on the street, you know where it’s not safe, to be able to start a fire and fry something or grill something,” he said. “You know, anything you’re able to eat or even make some rice.”
With people in Gaza facing so many difficulties, he said it leaves many fleeing from one place to another on a daily basis.
For Ayman, he says he fled to the Rafah border crossing in hopes of seeking safety in Egypt before flying home to Canada.
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He said it took him two weeks before he could cross, but eventually upon doing so he stayed a few days in Cairo before he could fly home.
According to Global Affairs Canada, no new Canadians crossed at the border on Thursday with 367 Canadians, permanent residents and eligible family members having crossed so far from Gaza.
GAC called the situation “quite fluid and unpredictable.”
However, the government said six people had been assisted in departing the West Bank, bringing the total number of assisted departures from that area to 71.
Global Affairs Canada said it has responded to 12,808 enquiries since the beginning of the conflict in October, including 115 newly made since Wednesday, with most relating to options for departure and the overall security situation. Numbers provided on Wednesday showed the agency was in contact with 386 Canadians, permanent residents and eligible family members still in Gaza.
— with files from The Associated Press
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