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Palestinian mother fears for her children as she wonders about the future after evacuating Gaza City

LONDON (AP) — Najla Shawa and her family are safe for now after fleeing their home in Gaza City, but she’s worried she may never be able to return.

Shawa, a Gaza native who works for the international aid group Oxfam, is sheltering with her husband, two daughters and about 50 others at a compound in Zawaida, a community just south of the area Israeli forces ordered residents to evacuate before an anticipated ground offensive.

The adults are sleeping in shifts and the group is rationing food and water amid an Israeli siege that has blocked supplies from entering the Gaza Strip. But the compound has solar panels, so they have a few lights, internet service and are able to charge their phones.

Aid work has stopped as Shawa and her colleagues focus on their families.

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“The worry is now sinking in, in a way that we need to be prepared for all scenarios,” Shawa, Oxfam’s Gaza-based country director, told The Associated Press in a video call. “There are no answers, really, because the destruction, the scale of destruction, that we have been seeing is terrifying.”

“I was talking to someone (and they asked) why didn’t you decide to stay? … I’m in Gaza because I want to be in Gaza. I mean, in general, with my family. But at the same time, I’m going to see myself and my daughters hurt. So if there’s any chance I can prevent that, I would.’’

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About 500,000 people, almost a quarter of Gaza’s population, are sheltering in U.N. schools and other facilities across the territory, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The Gaza Health Ministry said that 2,450 Palestinians have been killed and 9,200 others wounded during a week of Israeli airstrikes that have razed apartment buildings, offices and mosques.

Now that her family is safe, at least for the time being, Shawa is thinking of what comes next.

The events of the past week have reminded Palestinians of the hundreds of thousands of people who were forced from their homes and became refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948. Now some people are talking about Gaza residents being evacuated to the Sinai Desert in Egypt, she said.

“We don’t want to be refugees again,’’ Shawa said. “But to what extent can you bear the suffering, can you bear that possibility of even losing your life?’’

But as a parent, Shawa is more worried about her children than her own safety.

“Losing our lives, it’s OK, it’s God’s will,” she said. “But the suffering, seeing our kids torn or severely injured, etc., not being able to treat them, to hospitalize them. It’s really just beyond thinking.”