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‘Our tents were drowned.’ Torrential rain adds to the misery of Gaza’s displaced

Men with rolled up trousers wade through floods, trying to salvage makeshift tents submerged in dirty water and floating plastic.

Nearby, toddlers make toys out of garbage, pressing their bare feet into the wet sand.

Torrential rain in Gaza is making an already brutal existence even harder for the tens of thousands of people displaced and camping in the open air.

CNN video from Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, shows dozens of people searching for their belongings after torrential rain washed away mattresses, food and clothes overnight Wednesday.

“Today, our tents were drowned,” Jamal Ramadan told CNN. “All the nylon flew away. We slept under the rain. Everyone drowned. The children were in the water. Our food and drinks are all gone.”

Heavy rain floods makeshift tents in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, on January 24. Palestinians trying to survive bombardment told CNN winter weather conditions exacerbate dire sheltering conditions. - Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty Images
Heavy rain floods makeshift tents in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, on January 24. Palestinians trying to survive bombardment told CNN winter weather conditions exacerbate dire sheltering conditions. - Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty Images

Israel’s bombardment and besiegement of Gaza has obliterated huge parts of the strip, crushed the medical system and triggered a humanitarian crisis marked by food, fuel and water shortages. More than 2.2 million Palestinians face widespread hunger, dehydration and deadly disease.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched its offensive aiming to eliminate Hamas, after more than 1,200 people were killed and another 250 abducted in the militant group’s October 7 attacks on southern Israel.

At least 1.7 million people in Gaza have since been internally displaced, many multiple times, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7 have killed at least 25,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. CNN cannot independently verify the figures due to the difficulty of reporting from the war zone.

In the past week, the IDF has pressed its campaign further into central and southern Gaza, forcing hundreds and thousands of people into tiny patches of territory without basic sanitation or drinkable water.

With winter winds and heavy rainfall lashing the Palestinian enclave, parents in Deir Al-Balah told CNN they cannot sleep because they are trying to comfort their children.

“We were all asleep, and at midnight, we woke up when all those tents were drowned in water. We started carrying our children,” said Ahmad Al Rebai.

Another civilian, Um Muhammad, said she and others no longer have clothes for their children. “We pulled our children from the water. No one cares about us.”

Gaza sits in the Mediterranean Basin, which is highly vulnerable to climate change. While the region is experiencing less rainfall annually — making it susceptible to drought — some parts are also seeing more frequent and intense extreme rain events that are expected to worsen the more the Earth warms, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

January is traditionally the rainiest month in southern Israel and Gaza, generally seeing around 100 mm of rainfall on average. Totals this week could approach these monthly averages in some locations. A temperature drop of 5-8 degrees Celsius will be felt over the next few days as the weather system moves through the region, which will make for unseasonably cold conditions, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

“All we say is enough with all this. We want to go back to our homes in Gaza. We are tired of this life,” one man said. “It has been three and a half months. Enough with this life. It’s better that we die than live like this.”

Heavy tank fire in Khan Younis

Humanitarian workers in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, meanwhile described mass bombardment, heavy tank fire and air raid alerts in recent days, as Israel intensified its military campaign in the city.

Raging flames engulfed the walls of a UN shelter west of Khan Younis, after the facility was shelled on Wednesday. At least 12 people were killed and another 75 injured, according to Thomas White, director of the UN’s relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

Part of the UNRWA training center, hosting thousands of people, was hit by two shells and caught fire, added White.

UN staff managed to reach the location on Wednesday evening, after being denied access multiple times, the director said. “Persistent attacks on civilian sites in Khan Younis are utterly unacceptable and must stop immediately.”

Smoke rises after an attack on an UNRWA facility in Khan Younis on January 24, where more than 10,000 civilians were taking shelter. At least 12 people were killed and another 75 injured, according to the humanitarian agency. - Ramez Habboub/Anadolu/Getty Images
Smoke rises after an attack on an UNRWA facility in Khan Younis on January 24, where more than 10,000 civilians were taking shelter. At least 12 people were killed and another 75 injured, according to the humanitarian agency. - Ramez Habboub/Anadolu/Getty Images

The IDF said in a statement that it “currently” ruled out an aerial or artillery strike carried out by Israeli forces hit the UN facility. A “thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is underway,” according to the IDF, adding it is “examining the possibility that the strike was a result of Hamas fire.”

Further north, Gaza’s Civil Defense said on Thursday they dealt with “unbelievable” injuries, including loss of limbs, after an attack on civilians waiting for aid in Gaza City.

Crews were trying to reach the injured, but are being “blocked” by Israeli forces, Gaza Civil Defense Mahmoud Basal spokesperson said from the local Al Shifa Hospital, adding that there are areas they have not been able to get to.

Civilians were “targeted” by Israeli forces at the Kuwaiti roundabout in Gaza City, where they were gathered to pick up bags of flour, according to Basal.

Mohammed Al-Rifi, who sustained injuries in his arm and leg after the shelling incident by the Kuwaiti roundabout, said he and others there were “shelled four times.”

CNN asked the IDF earlier Thursday for comment on any military operations in the vicinity of the roundabout.

‘Thousands of preventable deaths’

Earlier in the week, hospital workers reported dire conditions inside facilities including the Nasser Medical Complex, Al Amal Hospital and the Palestine Red Crescent Society headquarters, where displaced staff and patients were trying to shelter.

On Thursday, Al Amal hospital in Khan Younis was targeted for a fourth consecutive day, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The PRCS also alleged that Israeli forces imposed “a complete curfew around the hospital since yesterday afternoon, restricting the movement of ambulance crews to and from the hospital. Thousands of displaced individuals live in constant fear and anxiety due to the ongoing siege and bombardment.”

The IDF said on Wednesday they were pursuing “military targets, outposts, infrastructure and command and control centers,” in Khan Younis, adding their campaign there will continue for “several days.”

“The manoeuver will continue against military targets that are in the area, outposts, infrastructure, and command and control centers,” the IDF said.

The IDF regularly asserts that it does not target hospitals but that Hamas uses them as cover for its military operations. CNN cannot independently verify operational details reported by the IDF.

Palestinians gather around the bodies of those who were killed Israel's bombardment of Khan Younis, outside a morgue in Rafah, in southern Gaza, on Wednesday. The ICRC warned the collapse of Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital could lead to "thousands of preventable deaths." - Fatima Shbair/AP
Palestinians gather around the bodies of those who were killed Israel's bombardment of Khan Younis, outside a morgue in Rafah, in southern Gaza, on Wednesday. The ICRC warned the collapse of Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital could lead to "thousands of preventable deaths." - Fatima Shbair/AP

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned “concrete actions” are needed to preserve “life saving” medical services in war torn Gaza.

The ICRC highlighted the deficiencies in the current healthcare system in Gaza where only two referral hospitals – Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital – providing advanced medical services are operational.

Dr. Ashraf Al-Qidra, the spokesperson for the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza, described the situation at Nasser Hospital as “extremely catastrophic.”

“The hospital is operating at 10% of its capacity. Operating rooms have run out of anesthesia and painkillers for patients and the wounded,” Al-Qidra said in a statement to CNN.

Fears are also mounting regarding supplies, with Al-Qidra warning that food supplies have run out and there are only enough fuel reserves for five days.

The ICRC added that if the Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital “cease to function,” the “world will bear witness to untold thousands of preventable deaths given the size of the population, the current extreme living conditions, a collapsing health system, and the intensity of the fighting.”

CNN’s Angela Dewan, Brandon Miller and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting.

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