Israel sets its sights on Rafah

Displaced Palestinians who left with their belongings from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following an evacuation order by the Israeli army, arrive in Khan Yunis yesterday amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. Picture: AFP

Displaced Palestinians who left with their belongings from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following an evacuation order by the Israeli army, arrive in Khan Yunis yesterday amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. Picture: AFP

Published May 7, 2024


Israel’s military on Monday called for the evacuation of Palestinians from eastern Rafah ahead of a ground invasion of the city, as Gaza aid officials said Israeli jets struck two areas where the warning had been issued.

The evacuation call followed intensified disagreement between Israel and Hamas over the Islamist group’s demands to end the seven-month war, during weekend talks in Cairo.

Consultations between two other mediators, the US and Qatar, were expected on Monday in Doha but state-linked media in Egypt said negotiations had stalled after a rocket strike killed four Israeli soldiers on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to send ground troops in against Hamas fighters in Rafah regardless of any truce, and despite concerns from the US, other countries and aid groups. The “limited” and temporary evacuation order aimed “to get people out of harm’s way” followed the deadly rocket fire that Israel’s military said came from an area adjacent to Rafah.

Gazan civil defence and aid officials said on Monday that Israeli jets had struck Al-Shuka and Al-Salam, among other areas, both of which were told to evacuate the day before. The main aid group in Gaza, UNRWA, said “an Israeli offensive in Rafah would mean more civilian suffering and deaths”. It added that it “is not evacuating”.

When asked how many people should move, a military spokesperson said: “The estimate is around 100 000 people.”

However, Ossama al-Kahlut, a Palestine Red Crescent representative in east Rafah, said the designated evacuation zone hosts around 250 000 people, many of whom are already uprooted from elsewhere in Gaza.

One resident, Abdul Rahman Abu Jazar, 36, said the area his family was told to seek refuge in “does not have enough room for us to make tents” because it is already full of displaced people. “Where we can go?” he asked.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel had yet to present “a credible plan” to protect civilians during the ground invasion that it has threatened for weeks.

And on Monday EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called the evacuation orders “unacceptable”. They “portend the worst: more war and famine”, he said, urging Israel to “renounce” a ground offensive.

The French foreign ministry said it was “strongly opposed” to an offensive on Rafah.

Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war began following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1 170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Israel estimates that 128 of the hostages abducted by militants on October 7 remain in Gaza, including 35 whom the military says are dead. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has conducted a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34 735 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

About 1.2 million people are sheltering in Rafah, according to the World Health Organization.

The Israeli military appealed for residents in the city’s eastern zone to move to the “expanded humanitarian area” at Al-Mawasi on Gaza’s nearby coast. The area “includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medication and additional supplies,” it said.

Soon after the war started, Israel told Palestinians living in northern Gaza to move to “safe zones” in the south, including Rafah near the Egyptian border. But Rafah has been repeatedly bombed from the air, including Monday following the evacuation order, and Palestinians frequently say that nowhere in Gaza is safe.

Medics and first responders said Israeli air strikes killed 16 people in Rafah on Sunday. The strikes came hours after Hamas rocket fire killed the Israeli soldiers in the Kerem Shalom border crossing area between southern Israel and Gaza. The strike led Israeli authorities to close the crossing, used to deliver aid into Gaza, and in response the military said its air force destroyed launchers from which the projectiles were fired.

Al-Qahera News, linked to Egyptian intelligence services, cited a high-level source on Monday as saying the rocket strike has “caused truce negotiations to bog down”.

Despite the evacuation order, Hamas spokesperson Abdul Latif al-Qanou said the movement “will continue the negotiations positively and with an open heart”.

Hamas negotiators are due back in Cairo today. Talks took place Sunday without an Israeli delegation present.

Cape Times