Mahmud Hams Agence France-Presse A Palestinian injured by an Israeli bombardment is transported outside the Al-Aqsa hospital, in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on Saturday.
Rami Charab had been stuck in Gaza's al-Chifa hospital for 20 days. Today, he finally arrived in the center of the Gaza Strip, after hours of walking among the wounded, the displaced and the frightened children.
When his neighborhood in Gaza City was bombed, Rami Charab took refuge in the territory's largest medical complex, with his sister Hanane, 22, his brother Farès, 11, and their mother Oum Rami, 53. He was convinced that the fighting would never win.
Like this 24-year-old Palestinian, 2,300 people were in al-Chifa before its evacuation on Saturday, according to the UN: sick, wounded, displaced and doctors trapped in the fighting and the tightening grip of Israeli tanks.
On the Salaheddine road crossing the Gaza Strip from north to south, which Rami Charab joined when leaving, a cohort of Palestinians advances slowly. A man carries his disabled daughter in his arms. Another advances, with his little girl with her leg in a cast, lying in his arms.
Around them, two embankments. On one side, warehouses with crushed roofs, charred cars and electrical wires hanging above broken streets. On the other, helmeted and armed Israeli soldiers overlook who monitor them in front of armored vehicles, tanks and personnel carriers.
Children walk barefoot, elderly men lean on canes. Some families, the rare ones who can pay twenty or thirty shekels — between five and eight euros — pass them on carts pulled by a donkey or a horse.
Bags, boxes , diapers
Some wave a white flag made from a piece of fabric and a wooden rod. Many carry diaper bags and packets, now almost impossible to find or overpriced, as well as boxes and blankets.
On their faces, fatigue, anxiety, sometimes tears. For Rami Charab, however, relief dominates.
“At eight in the morning,” he remembers, the loudspeakers rang out. An Israeli soldier ordered the evacuation of the al-Chifa hospital “within an hour or else we will be bombed.”
The establishment has been under siege for days by the Israeli army, according to which the complex hospital would house a Hamas military base, which the Palestinian movement denies.
“I was one of the first to come out,” the young man continues. “We heard shots in the air and artillery fire.” The Israeli army claims to have responded to “a request for evacuation” from the hospital management.
At the start of the siege, doctors told AFP that Israeli snipers shot at anyone leaving the establishment. Then army operations began inside, in the corridors, departments and offices.
Patients, displaced people, caregivers were questioned, searched, some undressed, said an AFP journalist himself blocked during days in the hospital, where he had gone to conduct interviews.
“It was hell,” says Rami Charab, who says he was beaten. “I stayed for five hours on the hospital plaza in my underwear,” he adds. “And all this in the middle of the bombings.”
The latter have been incessant in the Gaza Strip since Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel on October 7, the majority of them civilians, according to the Israeli authorities, triggering a war which has so far left 12,300 dead in Gaza, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
Samia al-Khatib, 45, her husband Ayman and their 15-year-old daughter, also left al-Chifa on Saturday morning and walked to join the remains of the family who had already left for the Nusseirat refugee camp, 10 kilometers to the south.
Today, a third of the inhabitants of the north have left, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, among the more than 1.5 million displaced from Gaza — two-thirds of the population.
“We first took the coastal route,” heading west. “All the streets were destroyed, there were craters, we saw a lot of decomposing bodies near the hospital and on the coastal road,” says the forty-year-old.
“It was visions of horror, a real massacre.”