Rafah residents brace for Ramadan amid ongoing conflict in Gaza

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinians in Rafah are preparing for Ramadan amid fears of an Israeli offensive, living in a tented camp in southern Gaza as they mark a somber start to the holy month, now more than five months into a war that has ravaged the enclave.

Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group ruling the Palestinian enclave and engaged in a conflict with Israeli forces since a deadly incursion into southern Israel on Oct. 7, have exchanged blame for the stalemate in negotiations ahead of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.

Despite the ongoing conflict, displaced Gazans, including women, men, and children, are decorating their tents, with children waving Ramadan lanterns and others singing songs while hanging balloons.

Five months into the conflict, marked by Israel’s air and ground assaults, Gaza’s health authorities report nearly 31,000 Palestinian fatalities.

The offensive has led to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, leaving much of the territory in ruins, displacing the majority of its population, and raising U.N. warnings of potential disease and starvation outbreaks.

Amid concerns over further civilian casualties, U.S. President Joe Biden has appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from launching a major offensive in Rafah without a comprehensive plan for the mass evacuation of civilians from areas yet to be entered by ground forces.

With more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents seeking refuge in the Rafah region, the situation remains dire.