Israel has said it will invade Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. An estimated 1.4 million Palestinian people seek refuge in Rafah.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said “it is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.” An Israeli attack earlier today in Rafah killed at least 50 people, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned “half of Gaza’s population is now crammed into Rafah with nowhere to go”.
On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on Israel. According to data cited by the United Nations (UN), the attack killed roughly 1,200 people. Hamas, which controls Gaza, captured about 240 hostages. About 136 hostages remain captive. Hamas has continued to fire rockets towards Israel.
Israel responded by declaring war and bombarding Gaza. According to data cited by the UN, an estimated 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since 7 October. Israel’s war in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis. Israel has said it will not stop fighting until all hostages are returned and Hamas is destroyed.
Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah
At the start of Israel’s war in Gaza, the military’s focus was on the north of the territory, causing civilians to flee to southern areas of Gaza, including Rafah.
Israel’s military has since moved southwards. It’s estimated 1.4 million people currently shelter in Rafah and an adjacent refugee camp to avoid the violence. Rafah is approximately 64 square kilometres, meaning there are nearly 22,000 people per square kilometre, making it one of the most population-dense locations in the world.
Netanyahu has said civilians will need to evacuate “combat zones” as Israeli forces move into Rafah.
The city is a critical point of entry for trucks delivering humanitarian aid. In November, UN Human Rights chief Volker Türk called the crossing an “outrageously thin” lifeline of food, water, fuel, and electricity for Gaza’s population.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell has warned Israel to “refrain from military escalation in Rafah”. She added: “We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional. Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.”
Over the weekend, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.”
He added: “It is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.”
In an update posted today, the Israel Defence Forces said they rescued two hostages in Rafah, who they described as being in “good medical condition”.
International leaders and officials have expressed concerns about the prospect of a Rafah invasion.
Late last week, before Israel had announced its plans in Rafah, U.S. President Joe Biden described Israel’s war in Gaza as “over the top”.
The White House has confirmed Biden has spoken with Netanyahu, where he said Israel’s forces needed a “credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering [in Rafah]”.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said today: “Many of Israel’s friends, including Australia, have expressed deep concerns about reports of an Israeli military operation in Rafah…
“Many civilians who were displaced in Israeli operations in the north have moved south to this area, often under Israeli direction. Israel now must exercise special care in relation to these civilians. Not doing so would have devastating consequences for those civilians and cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests.”
Saudi Arabia threatened “serious repercussions” if Rafah is invaded, and Egypt warned of “dire consequences” of an invasion.