Israel orders 100,000 to evacuate Rafah News
Tasnim News Agency, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Israel orders 100,000 to evacuate Rafah

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ordered approximately 100,000 Palestinians on Monday to evacuate parts of Rafah as it prepares for military operations in the southern Gazan city. The order came after the Hamas delegation left Cairo saying the latest round of ceasefire negotiations ended without an agreement. Hamas initially said they planned to return to talks on Tuesday, but a Hamas official told Israeli reporter Barak Ravid that the group would suspend hostage negotiations in response to the Rafah evacuation order.

The evacuation order applied to the town of Al-Shukha and the neighborhoods of Al-Salam, Al-Janina, Taba Zara’a, and Al-Yarmouk, as well as a group of blocks in Rafah. The IDF warned civilians that it was planning to act with force and said that any association with Hamas would put them and their families at risk. It ordered civilians to evacuate to the humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi and said that the zone would expand slightly to accommodate new arrivals. In the order, the IDF said that Gaza City was still dangerous, told civilians not to return north, and warned them not to approach the southern and eastern security fences surrounding Gaza.

Shortly after the evacuation orders were issued, residents in Rafah started reporting Israeli strikes in the area. This followed a series of Israeli airstrikes in Rafah overnight targeting areas where the IDF says rockets were launched at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The rocket attack on Kerem Shalom killed 4 soldiers and injured 10. Hamas claimed responsibility.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the UN agency tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, condemned the evacuation order and said it would not leave the Rafah area. Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, said on X (formerly Twitter):

An Israeli military offensive will lead to an additional layer of an already unbearable tragedy for the people in #Gaza. It will make even more difficult to reverse the expansion of the already man made famine. What is needed is a #ceasefireNow not new forced displacement + anxiety of endless suffering. Together with our partners, we will stay & deliver critical assistance in Rafah as long as possible.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, another major humanitarian group, also condemned the decision, with Secretary General Jan Egeland calling the orders “beyond alarming.” He stressed that 1.4 million people are currently sheltering in Rafah and that “with nowhere else to go, they are facing the threat of prolonged displacement and death.” Egeland called on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal to release hostages and end the war, saying that, “History’s verdict will be harsh on the men who continued a war that kills countless women and children.” He also criticized Israel’s allies, saying:

Israel’s allies have consistently failed to restrain indiscriminate attacks in Gaza for months. Now, once more, they are failing to prevent Israel from moving forward with a reckless military offensive in densely populated Rafah. By supporting a war of debilitation and supplying arms that fuel the conflict, Israel’s allies must now bear responsibility for their failure to ensure respect for the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

US President Joe Biden has expressed opposition to an Israeli invasion of Rafah, advocating instead for a hostage and ceasefire deal. A National Security Council spokesperson told NBC that Biden was going to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today about Israel’s potential ground assault of Rafah.

Israel has been intensifying its military operations in southern Gaza ahead of a potential invasion of Rafah, and Netanyahu last week vowed to invade the area “with or without a deal.” More than one million people, approximately half of Gaza’s population, are currently sheltering in Rafah. The international community, including the US, has expressed alarm at the prospect of an Israeli invasion, saying such an invasion would exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Israel claims it needs to invade Rafah to dismantle Hamas operations and free the remaining hostages taken on the October 7 attacks.

Many in the international community, including mediators Qatar, Egypt, and the US, have been pushing for a ceasefire and hostage release deal to prevent an invasion of Rafah. Talks broke down again over the weekend, with Hamas and Israel blaming each other. Hamas’ political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the group was “still keen” to reach a deal, but stressed that any deal would have to include an agreement to end the war permanently and withdraw Israeli forces. Netanyahu said he “cannot accept” those positions, calling them “extreme.” Haniyeh accused Netanyahu of sabotaging the negotiations, something an unnamed Israeli official also suggested to the New York Times, pointing to actions such as shuttering Al-Jazeera’s operations in the country. Netanyahu rejected those claims, calling them “a complete lie and a deliberate deception of the public” and saying Hamas was to blame for the lack of a deal.

Gaza has been decimated in the six months since the beginning of the war, with reports from the BBC and the Guardian showing that at least half of the buildings in the territory have been damaged or destroyed, including entire neighborhoods. Israel strikes have hit locations including medical facilities and refugee camps, and human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes. Nearly two million people, 85 percent of the territory’s population, have been displaced by the violence, and more than 34,000 people have been killed—mostly civilians. Survivors face a collapsed medical system and imminent famine.

Palestinian rights groups and President Mahmoud Abbas assert that Israel’s actions amount to genocide. Israel rejects this, but the International Court of Justice (ICJ) still ordered the country to “take all measures within its power” to prevent a “plausible” genocide in Gaza. It also issued a second order with additional emergency provisional measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.