Israel orders evacuation of Rafah where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering

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The News

The Israel Defense Forces has been told to prepare a plan to evacuate Rafah, a densely-populated town in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he had ordered the evacuation ahead of an expected IDF ground invasion of Rafah, which houses about 1.5 million Palestinians who have been displaced from their homes by the Israel-Hamas war.

In a statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said that the evacuation was an attempt to drive Palestinians from their land, and that it would hold Israel and the U.S. responsible for any repercussions. It also warned the United Nations Security Council to pay close attention, because Israel “taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines.”

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Netanyahu has claimed that Rafah is the final Hamas stronghold in Gaza. His government has vowed to entirely eliminate the militant group, which carried out a deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7. That military objective, analysts have said, is nearly impossible.

The U.S. said any invasion of Rafah without planning to protect refugees would be a ”disaster,” and human rights groups have warned that it could be ”fatal" for displaced civilians and humanitarian aid.

UNICEF said that an escalation in Rafah would mark a “devastating turn” in the war, which has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian authorities, and had a disproportionate impact on women and children.

More than 600,000 children live in Rafah, and “military operations in densely populated residential areas can have indiscriminate effects,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a press release.

Step Back

Rafah lies on the border with Egypt, and is a crucial entry point for aid to reach the enclave. It is located next to the Rafah Crossing, a passage controlled by the Egyptian government through which aid trucks enter the strip.

At the start of the war, Israel imposed a total blockade over the Gaza Strip, closing all entry and exit points out of the area and effectively enclosing Gazans. Typically, the Rafah Crossing has operated as a civilian entry point, and has not historically been equipped to handle incoming aid shipments.