GENEVA, Dec 7 — An exodus of Palestinians from Gaza into other countries in the region would be “catastrophic”, the United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told AFP in an interview yesterday, stressing the need for a ceasefire.

“I hope that there will not be a regional exodus of Palestinians,” he said.

“One should never forget that two-thirds of the population of Gaza are already refugees from the original conflict,” he said, referring to Israel’s creation 75 years ago which gave rise to the exodus or forced displacement of 760,000 Palestinians.

That event is known as the Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe”.

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A fresh exodus, Grandi warned, “would be an additional burden on the refugee population, on the Palestinian population and on the region”.

His comments came as Israeli forces battled Hamas militants in Gaza’s main southern city Khan Yunis Wednesday, in some of the most intense fighting of the nearly two-month war sparked by the October 7 attacks.

Those attacks killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and around 240 people taken hostage.

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In response to the Hamas attack, Israel vowed to destroy the group, and has carried out a relentless bombardment and a ground offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 16,200 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government.

Israeli troops, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers have rolled into Khan Yunis, Gaza’s second-largest city, forcing already displaced civilians to pack up and flee again, witnesses told AFP.

The focus of the conflict has shifted into the besieged Palestinian territory’s south following fierce fighting and bombardment that reduced much of the north to rubble and forced an estimated 1.9 million people to flee.

With the borders closed, barely anyone has made it out of Gaza since the war began.

And since a week-long truce ended last week, only around 100 aid trucks have been able to enter Gaza, which Grandi warned was “vastly insufficient”.

“It is very, very important to address this to prevent an exodus that would be really catastrophic,” he said.

“The priority is to go back to a pause... hopefully followed by a humanitarian ceasefire, (an) even more stable cessation of hostilities,” he said.

“The Palestinian people are at the moment the victims of this military action, he said, adding that with more than 16,000 already dead, this “has to end as soon as possible”.

“This is the outcome that we should all be working on.” — AFP