(NEW YORK) — Amel Safi did not say goodbye to her brothers before she fled Gaza because it would have made it harder to leave, the 22-year-old Palestinian told ABC News.
Following Israel’s warning to evacuate northern Gaza Friday ahead of a potential ground incursion, Safi said her mother came to her and asked her to pack her “most precious” items in a small bag and the women in her family went to Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, while the men stayed behind.
“I was crying from the moment that my mum told me I have to prepare my bag. I feel like I couldn’t talk with my brothers because I’m going to cry more,” Safi told ABC News in a Zoom interview on Friday. “I don’t want to see them because I know if I have seen them, I would cry more.”
“I don’t like even my enemy to experience such a thing,” she added.
Safi said she and her family have been living in fear amid Israeli airstrikes retaliating for Hamas’ brutal surprise attack last weekend. As of Sunday, at least 2,670 people have been killed and an estimated 9,600 more injured in the strikes in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
“Every single night, every single moment, we are afraid to be bombed, to be killed,” Safi said.
The Israeli military early Friday told all residents north of Wadi Gaza — 1.1 million people — to evacuate their homes within 24 hours and move south. Safi said her family wasn’t sure what to do following the notice. Ultimately, the men in her family decided to stay while the women and her youngest brother went to Khan Yunis, where they hoped they would be safer, Safi said.
“A house that my father built, like he did everything to build, and he tried his best to give us a place to feel safe — everything in a moment, we may lose it,” Safi said. “We are very afraid and we are very sad. I couldn’t believe the situation. I couldn’t believe it. I feel like, okay, am I dreaming? Am I in a nightmare?”
Safi said she’s staying at a place in Khan Yunis with between 12 to 15 people. Friends of her siblings asked if they could stay with them but they didn’t have enough room. Other evacuees are having trouble finding places to stay and many are sleeping on the streets, she said.
“You can see women holding their children and they’re crying over them,” she said. “They can’t feed them. They can’t find a place to feel safe.”
They brought food with them, but Safi said the shelves at supermarkets near them are nearly empty.
“Even if you have the money, you wouldn’t be able to buy the things that you really need,” she said.
In the wake of the evacuation notice, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday they plan to implement a wide-ranging offensive, including “significant ground operations,” and will “broadly attack Gaza City very soon.”
With her family now separated amid the raging conflict, Safi said she hopes she will get to see her brothers and father again.
“I will never be able to forget what happened today. It’s just a nightmare,” she said. “I wish someone can come to me and wake me up.”
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