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Rafah evacuation: Gazans start leaving city’s east as Israeli military orders people to leave


Gazans began leaving eastern Rafah on Monday after the Israeli army issued an appeal to residents of the area. “evacuate immediately,” raising questions about whether Israel will soon carry out its assault on the city, which it has long threatened.

During nearly seven months of war, more than a million Palestinians fled to Rafah, where Hamas is believed to have regrouped after Israel destroyed much of the northern Gaza Strip.

The city has become the center of the war as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces growing pressure from the extreme wing of his coalition to launch a large-scale ground operation on Rafah to destroy Hamas, while the more moderate wing asks him to give priority to Rafah. obtain a ceasefire agreement for the hostages.

It’s unclear whether the evacuation order constitutes a prelude to an assault, but it came a day after Israel’s defense minister told troops in Gaza to expect “intense action at Rafah in the near future.” Netanyahu also insisted that Israel would defend itself even if it was “forced to stand alone”, defying international pressure for his country’s military to limit its campaign in Gaza.

The more moderate wing of Netanyahu’s government has urged the leader to prioritize reaching a ceasefire deal for the hostages. But negotiations on the deal have stalled again, after Israel and Hamas failed to reach an agreement over the weekend. Hamas has asked Israel to commit to ending the war, which Netanyahu has refused, two Israeli sources said. Some Israeli officials hope the evacuation orders in eastern Rafah will pressure Hamas to change its position, as efforts to reach a deal continue this week.

CIA Director William Burns continues negotiations in Doha on Monday, a day after stopping in Cairo for negotiations. A senior Biden administration official said Israel’s warnings about Rafah were “directly linked” to the lack of progress. Israel is trying to put pressure on Hamas, the official said, adding: “If that doesn’t work, Israel will come in.”

The evacuation order came after Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing to help trucks after it was hit by at least 10 rockets on Sunday morning, according to the Israeli military. The crossing was key to getting aid to Gaza. Three IDF soldiers were killed and three others seriously injured in the attack claimed by Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades.

It was unclear whether the evacuation call was a response to the Kerem Shalom attack, and the border crossing remained closed Monday. Col. Nadav Shoshani, the IDF’s international spokesperson, told a news briefing that Israel’s order was a “limited-scope operation aimed at temporarily evacuating” and “not a large-scale evacuation.”

A CNN journalist in eastern Rafah said people were terrified and panicked, while videos and images showed displaced people packing their belongings into the back of pickup trucks, cars and donkey carts. as they prepared to leave.

Children were seen sitting among fuel tanks and plastic bags filled with belongings, while families left with mattresses strapped to the roof of their cars.

Avichay Adraee, head of the Arab media division of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, wrote: “For your safety, the Defense Force urges you to immediately evacuate to the expanded humanitarian zone at the checkpoints. »

Adraee launched “an urgent appeal” to people residing in “Al-Shawka municipality and the neighborhoods of Al-Salam, Al-Jneina, Tiba Zaraa and Al-Bayouk in the Rafah region.”

AFP/Getty Images

Children wait with their belongings in the back of a truck after Israel’s evacuation order, May 6, 2024.

Israel ordered the Palestinians to move to Al-Mawasi, a coastal town near the city of Khan Younis, where an “extended humanitarian zone” was created.

“I am going to Al-Mawasi, I have not received any evacuation order. I’m leaving before the others. There is nothing left,” Abu Ihab Eweida, a Palestinian from Rafah, told Tareq Al Hilou. a local journalist working for CNN.

In a video obtained for CNN, Eweida is seen gathering his relief boxes, blankets and water in his tent in Jneina camp, east of Rafah, where he lived with his two sons.

“I don’t want to witness what people are going to do. I’ll just leave,” Eweida said.

The main UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has warned that Al-Mawasi is not suitable for habitation.

“It’s really not a completely suitable place for people to be able to set up tents and be able to sit down and try to live and meet their basic needs every day,” Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza.

Israel’s constant bombardment of Gaza since October 7 has devastated the besieged enclave, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble, limiting food, fuel and water supplies, and forcibly displacing large numbers of those seeking refuge. in Rafah several times during the seven months of war.

Humanitarian agencies have warned Israel against launching a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah, saying “any ground operation would mean more suffering and death” for the 1.2 million displaced Palestinians sheltering in and around the city, OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva. .

Northern Gaza is already experiencing “widespread famine” that is spreading rapidly across the strip, the World Food Program warned over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its aerial bombardments on the city. At least 26 people, including babies and children, were killed in airstrikes on Monday night, in an attack targeting 11 houses in a residential area, Gaza Civil Defense said. Eight other people were killed in strikes in other parts of Gaza, according to local authorities.

Israel has repeatedly announced its intention to send troops to Rafah, a southern city on the border with Egypt, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are believed to have taken refuge since October 7.

AFP/Getty Images

A woman carries the body of a child killed during Israeli nighttime strikes on Rafah, May 6, 2024.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant told troops in Gaza on Sunday morning to expect “intense action in Rafah in the near future and in other locations throughout the Strip” because – as he said ‘said – Hamas has no intention of reaching an agreement on the hostages. and a ceasefire.

The Israeli military also did not set a specific deadline for how long residents of eastern Rafah would have to evacuate, nor did it provide assurances that the area they would move to would not be bombarded.

“We are making real-time situational assessments and assessing the situation,” said the IDF’s Shoshani.

He said the current evacuation involves around 100,000 people.

Asked by CNN about the operational reason for the decision, Shoshani said: “This is part of our plans to dismantle Hamas, and as I said, we had a violent reminder of their presence, of their operational capabilities and their well-being yesterday and as part of this decision. our plans for dismantling and repatriating our hostages.

Israel’s previous orders to evacuate parts of Gaza ahead of military operations have been criticized by the United Nations and humanitarian groups, who have repeatedly said there is no safe space in the strip. from Gaza where people could flee.

The Israeli army said it dropped leaflets in eastern Rafah to residents and refugees “in the Rafah camp, the Brazil camp and the Al-Shabura and Al-Zohour neighborhoods” so that they be evacuated because “staying in these areas puts your life in danger”.

Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa/picture-alliance/AP

Palestinians hold an evacuation order leaflet dropped by the Israeli army east of the city of Rafah, May 6, 2024.

He directed residents to Al-Mawasi, a narrow and arid coastal strip west of Khan Younis, which has been designated by Israel as an “extended humanitarian zone.”

However, there is little relief from Israeli bombs or respite from the humanitarian catastrophe across the Gaza Strip, where malnutrition is spreading rapidly and more than 34,600 people have been killed since October, according to Palestinian authorities. in Gaza.

In January, 14 people, including children, were killed by an Israeli airstrike on a house in Al-Mawasi, local authorities said.

And areas once designated safe zones by the Israeli military were decimated once forces entered them. At the start of the war, the Israeli army designated Khan Younis as a safer area and asked residents of northern Gaza to seek refuge there. But as the IDF advanced south, Khan Younis became its next target and the city was devastated.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it was “not evacuating” and that the agency would “maintain a presence in Rafah for as long as possible and continue to provide lifesaving assistance to people” .

Wael Abu Omar, UNRWA media director at the Rafah crossing, said: “So far, the Rafah land terminal has not been closed to passenger traffic. Truck movement and aid entry have been halted at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom commercial crossings since yesterday afternoon.

Correction: This article has been updated to remove a quote erroneously attributed to an IDF spokesperson saying residents “have at least a few days to move out.” The spokesperson did not give a timetable.

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