20231029 gaza strip
A baker prepares bread at the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

Rafah, Palestinian Territories: Etidal al-Masri got up before dawn to reach the bakery in Rafah in the hopes of getting enough bread to feed her relatives who were bombed out of their home.

She waited in line for ages, but by the time it was her turn, the bread had run out.

Masri fled her home in the northern Beit Hanun area to seek shelter at a school run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in this southern Gaza town, but has been finding it hard to get basic supplies.

"Because of the chaos, my turn didn't come," she told AFP outside the bakery where huge crowds people come to seek bread as war-torn Gaza struggles with dire shortages of food, water and fuel.

More than half of Gaza's population - some 1.4 million people - have fled their homes since the war erupted on October 7, with Israel relentlessly bombarding the territory after Hamas militants went on the rampage, killing 1,400 people in the worst attack in Israel's history.

Since then, medics in Hamas-run Gaza say more than 8,000 people have been killed, with the authorities saying tens of thousands of buildings have been damaged or destroyed, among them some 40 bakeries.

Outside Al-Quds bakery in Rafah, an AFP journalist saw hundreds of people waiting.

Mohammed Qaranawi, who is hosting 25 people in his home, said as well as the bombardments, the bakeries were also struggling with a dire lack of fuel.

"You can wait in line for hours and in the end you don't get a turn to get bread," he said.

Abdul Nasser al-Ajrami, head of Gaza's bakery association, said 60 percent of businesses were out of action.

"We're struggling to provide flour, gas and electricity," he said.

"A lot of workers can't reach bakeries because of the strikes and the risk of death," he added.

Queueing from 5am

Bakery owner Suleiman al-Huli said he had witnessed some of the "most extreme" scenes since the Nakba of 1948 - when 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the war that accompanied Israel's creation.

"I feel upset, I can't give everyone bread. The bakery is hand-operated and produces 30 bundles (of pitta) an hour... this is much less than people need," he said.

One resident told AFP she had gone to three bakeries since dawn in search of bread.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has described the conditions as "unimaginably desperate" after Israel cut normal supplies of food, water and power to Gaza, notably blocking fuel on grounds it could be exploited by Hamas for weapons and explosives.

"WFP was relying on 23 bakeries to feed 220,000 people a day... only two are functional," spokeswoman Shaza Moghraby told journalists.

While limited aid convoys have reached Gaza - deemed woefully inadequate by the UN - no fuel has been brought in from neighbouring Egypt.

Bakery worker Sami Salman al-Huli said thousands of people tended to gather outside the bakery from as early as 5:00 am (0300 GMT) in order to get bread.

"We can only cover 300 people and the numbers are several times greater... I try to give people one bundle of bread (to share)," said the 30-year-old.

As well as worrying about the vast needs, Huli also has to contend with the relentless strikes.

"I'm afraid the bakery will be bombed, like bakeries were bombed in Gaza City and elsewhere," he said.