Visualizing what an attack on Rafah means for civilians

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Israel’s order for civilians to “immediately” evacuate parts of Rafah poses severe humanitarian and logistical challenges in the southern Gazan city, where over 1 million displaced people have sought refuge since war broke out in the enclave seven months ago.

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces told about 100,000 civilians in Rafah to evacuate to a humanitarian zone in the territory’s west, saying the military would operate with “extreme force” in the areas where they live.

Since the war began, Israel has conducted ground operations across most of Gaza, steadily pushing Palestinians south. The United Nations estimates up to 1.7 million people have been displaced by the conflict. A majority of them are in Rafah, which before the war had a population of around 275,000.

Civilians in Shouka and the eastern Rafah neighborhoods of Salam, Jeneina, Tabet Ziraa and Byouk were told to leave for an encampment in the Mawasi area, on the outskirts of Khan Younis, according to a statement in Arabic from Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, an IDF spokesman.

Rafah residents were informed through fliers dropped from the air and via messages, phone calls and broadcasts in Arabic, the IDF said.

Palestinian families were seen leaving areas of Rafah on May 6 after receiving orders from Israel to evacuate immediately. (Video: Reuters)

Mawasi has for some time now been deemed a safe zone in the war. Satellite imagery last month showed a growing encampment in the area. But aid groups have warned that the area has little infrastructure to sustain the increasing population of refugees.

“Even before today’s evacuation orders, Al-Mawasi was uninhabitable,” said Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, chief executive of Mercy Corps, in a statement. “Our team members report tents stretched endlessly under scorching sun with no relief in sight and no electricity, water, or aid.”

Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis were also deemed part of what the IDF called an expanded humanitarian zone. Both places have seen fighting and destruction during the war, making them hard to access for aid deliveries or evacuations.


Density of damage based

on satellite imagery

Gate 96:

Israeli controlled

entry point for aid

IDF expanded

humanitarian

zone

IDF

designated

humanitarian

zone

Kerem Shalom

commercial crossing

Sources: IDF, UN OCHA and IMPACT/UNOSAT

Density of damage based on satellite imagery

Gate 96:

Israeli controlled

entry point for aid

IDF expanded

humanitarian

zone

IDF designated

humanitarian

zone

Kerem Shalom

commercial

crossing

Sources: IDF, UN OCHA and IMPACT/UNOSAT

Density of damage based on satellite imagery

Gate 96:

Israeli controlled

entry point for aid

IDF expanded

humanitarian

zone

IDF designated

humanitarian

zone

Sources: UN OCHA,

IMPACT/UNOSAT and

OpenStreetMap

Kerem Shalom

commercial crossing

The red zone — the focus of Israel’s new operation — includes Al-Najjar hospital, which provides limited treatment for cancer, dialysis, pediatrics and emergency care.

Mhoira Leng, a palliative care provider who recently returned from volunteering at the hospital said in a statement that patients and workers there were already struggling to receive care. “The staff are living in tents with scarce access to food. Now, they are being forced to flee and move immovable patients out of the only hospital providing this care in Gaza.”

The zone also includes two major entry points for aid into Gaza: Rafah crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Aid groups warned that this could be disastrous for the humanitarian efforts in the enclave.

“Rafah is currently the central hub of all humanitarian operations and a lifeline for aid to enter Gaza,” McKenna said. “An offensive will cause the humanitarian response — already impeded by extremely limited access, onerous border checks, and the destruction of vital infrastructure from roads to warehouses — to collapse.”

The zone also encompasses a large segment of Rafah’s agricultural land. Fighting there could further hamper Gaza’s ability to produce its own food.


Satelitte image via Planet Labs PBC

Satelitte image via Planet Labs PBC

al-Helal al-Emirati Maternity Hospital

Gaza International Airport

(Closed since 2002)

Satelitte image via Planet Labs PBC

al-Helal al-Emirati Maternity Hospital

Gaza International Airport

(Closed since 2002)

Niha Masih, Lior Soroka, Annabelle Timsit and Cate Brown contributed to this report.

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