Trapped in Khan Younis: British-Gazan scientist ponders where to go next

Dr Mohammed Ghalayini speaks to ITV News as he tries to assess if Israeli issued maps have any value for civilian protection. Credit: Handout

By Leila Sansour, ITV News Producer

Dr Mohammed Ghalayini, whose journey ITV News has followed since the start of Israel's bombardment of Gaza, is now trapped in Khan Younis.

He is pondering what to do with the alerts he receives from the Israeli military and what his next move should be, as the shelling of the city intensifies and tanks amass on its outskirts.

Dr Ghalayini is in a small house in the centre of the old town, alongside 30 members of his family. Their modest shelter, his grandparents' old home, is a luxury few can afford in Gaza today.

Initially there were 50 of them - all huddled in a small space as they fled from various parts of the Gaza strip. Dr Ghalayini made his way from the north. Twenty of them have headed to the southern border town of Rafah, but there has been shelling there too. No one knows what is best to do.

For the time being, they are lucky to be alive. The parcel of land where the house stands, as far as they can tell from the published maps and block numbers, is not a target. But how can they be sure?

As ITV News speaks to Dr Ghalayini, an explosion is heard, but he stays calm.

"It is very near. Did you hear it? When you hear the trail of the rocket, it means you are not the target," he explains.

'Only 10% of people across Gaza have any internet or telephone connection,' Dr Ghalayini told ITV News

Even if the maps and block numbers reflected a genuine map of planned military operations "what are the rest supposed to do?", Dr Ghalayini says. "Are they fair game?"

The flyers that get dropped from the sky, the texts, the "disembodied voice messages" are a "dystopian system masquerading as civilian protection".

Dr Ghalayini tries to keep the spirits up in his grandparents' house, especially amongst the children. He tries to go out every day to check on his aunt and buy some necessities. Earlier this week, he managed to find oats.

"It is great," he says. "Because I don't even need to cook them. I can just soak them overnight and add powdered milk."

Cooking takes fuel. He adds: "That will be my meal for the day and I can have that every day for a while." 

In his neighbourhood, they haven't seen a water vendor for three days and no running water for ten days.

Prices have more than doubled. One cubic metre of water used to cost 16 shekels (£3.44) - now it is 100 shekels (£21.50).

Most recently he's been helping to channel some funds for fuel and lentils to feed 100 people nearby.

This is the main food now: lentils, rice, sometimes bread or tinned beans, if people can come by them. The majority don't have the resources to store up on things. They have to fend for their daily rations.

Dr Ghalayini tries to keep the spirits up in his grandparents' house, saying: 'We try to keep the kids occupied.'  Credit: Handout

Dr Ghalayini shows ITV News his neighbourhood in Khan Younis, where his daily walks intermingle with the sound of bombing, smoke and scenes of ruin

"Strange what two months can do," he says. Dr Ghalayini is an environmental scientist, who used to live and work in Manchester. 

He decided to come back to resettle in Gaza only months before Israel's bombing campaign rendered his new home in Gaza City completely uninhabitable.

The cosy tower block overlooking the beach is now occupied by Israeli snipers, who have set themselves up on the top floors.

"A good friend of mine, my uncle and a cousin also used to live in the same building. I think their apartments are now all burnt down," Dr Ghalayini says.

"I was shocked to see it on a news report. I dread to think what happened to my family photos and the library of books we left behind."

Dr Ghalayini's apartment is at the top of the white building, which appears behind the soldier with smoke rising from it

Dr Ghalayini, seen enjoying happier times at his apartment (bottom left), recently caught a glimpse of it in a news report (right). Credit: Handout

When speaking of all the ruin he had witnessed, Dr Ghalayini speaks very calmly. Maybe it is because the real emotional trial for him and his family is that they have now lost more than 60 members of their extended family.

On October 15, a number of them were killed in a airstrike that hit a home, just 15 metres away from where Dr Ghalayini is now staying.

"If you count from my mother's side and my father's side, yes it is more than 60 [dead]. It was members of my mum's family, the Al Farra family, that were killed in that strike on the house next door."

But, still, Dr Ghalayini remains defiant. He refuses to be "forced out of Gaza by a hostile army".

'The fear if we leave is that we won't be able to come back and this has precedence. Palestinians left their homes in 1948 and were not allowed to come back'

Despite facing the threat of daily shelling, Dr Ghalayini shared with ITV News a moment of celebration.

He, alongside children from his family, sing 'Happy Birthday' to mark the birth of his best friend's child back in the UK. One day, they say, they hope he will come to visit Gaza. They are going to rebuild it.

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