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14 May, 2024 19:17

450,000 Palestinians flee Rafah as Israeli tanks move in

“Nowhere is safe” in Gaza, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees has warned
450,000 Palestinians flee Rafah as Israeli tanks move in

Some 450,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since Israel ordered more of the city evacuated on Saturday, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday. Reports from the city suggest that Israeli forces are closing in on its densely-populated urban core.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ordered people in the southeastern neighborhoods of Rafah to leave “immediately” on Saturday, with IDF spokesman Avichai Adraee warning that Israeli forces were preparing to strike Hamas targets there “with great force.” The IDF has now evacuated the entire eastern third of the city following a similar order given earlier this month.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said that 450,000 people had heeded the orders. “People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe,” the statement read. “An immediate cease-fire is the only hope.” 

Prior to the evacuation, Rafah hosted around 1.4 million Palestinians fleeing Israeli operations in northern and central Gaza. Despite condemnation from the US, UN, and other countries and international organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered airstrikes on Rafah at the beginning of May, followed by a limited ground offensive near the city’s southern border checkpoint with Egypt.

IDF tanks entered the Brazil and al-Jnaina neighborhoods of eastern Rafah on Tuesday, Palestinian sources told Reuters, with one source describing “clashes” in built-up areas. The IDF said that its troops had “eliminated several armed terrorist cells in close-quarters encounters on the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing” and “eliminated a number of terrorists and located weapons” in eastern areas of the city.

Hamas said on Tuesday that its fighters had killed and wounded several Israeli troops with missiles and mines in Brazil and al-Jnaina.

It is unclear whether Netanyahu intends to press ahead with a full-scale invasion of Rafah. The US State Department has expressed doubt that the IDF is capable of completely eradicating Hamas in Gaza, and US President Joe Biden has warned that he will halt some military aid to Israel if Netanyahu carries out such an operation.

Some 35,901 Palestinians have been killed in the seven months since Israel began striking Gaza, according to the territory’s health ministry. Of that number, 24,686 have been identified, 60% of whom were women, children, and the elderly, according to the UN.

Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 Israelis during their October 7 assault on the Jewish state. Meanwhile, 272 Israeli soldiers have been killed fighting in Gaza, while another 1,674 have been injured, according to Israeli officials and media outlets.

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