Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the military to prepare for the “evacuation of the population” from Rafah, as stated by his office on Friday, 8 February. This directive precedes the expected ground operation in the southern Gaza city.
Rafah is currently home to over 1.3 million individuals, with the majority having been displaced from various other areas of Gaza, according to the United Nations.
Netanyahu announced on Thursday, 7 February, that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would soon enter Rafah, described as Hamas’s final stronghold.
Many Palestinians have fled to Rafah seeking shelter as the IDF’s operations progressed southward through Gaza. However, where they can go next remains uncertain as the city’s border with Egypt has been closed for several months.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office stated that it’s not feasible to both eradicate Hamas and allow “four Hamas battalions in Rafah” to remain.
“Therefore,” the statement read, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the IDF and the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions.”
Recently, Rafah has seen a significant influx of displaced Palestinians seeking refuge. Satellite images from this week illustrate the rapid expansion of a tent city in Rafah as more Gazans seek shelter in the area to avoid the IDF’s military operation.
The United Nations cautioned in December that Rafah governorate has become the most densely populated area in Gaza, with approximately 12,000 people per square kilometer.
European diplomats urged Israel on Saturday to avoid escalating the conflict in southern Gaza, which serves as the last refuge for approximately one million displaced Palestinians.
Concerns have heightened following reports of Israeli shelling near Rafah. According to health officials in Gaza, an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Saturday, 9 February, resulted in the deaths of 14 individuals.
“There are one million people in the south that have been displaced progressively against the Egyptian border,” said the EU foreign affairs minister Josep Borrell. “They claimed that they were safe zones, but in fact what we see is that the bombing affecting the civilian population continues and is creating a very dire situation.”
UNICEF has cautioned against a military intervention in the city of Rafah, located in southern Gaza. This area is home to over 600,000 children and their families, totaling around a million individuals, who have been forced to flee due to the relentless warfare that has persisted for over four months.