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PM orders plan to evacuate Rafah

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11 February 2024, The Age & Sydney Morning Herald / AP, Reuters, by Nidal al-Mughrabi

Gaza’s southernmost town, Rafah, is bursting at the seams. Nearly the last place spared an Israeli offensive so far, Rafah’s population has more than quintupled with Palestinians streaming in to escape fighting. They pack by the dozens into apartments. Footpaths and once-empty lots are clogged with tents full of families.

Panic and despair are rising after Israel said it intended to attack Rafah next. The 1.5 million people sheltering there – more than half of Gaza’s population – have nowhere to flee in the face of an offensive that has levelled large swaths of the rest of the territory.

Some are just sick of running.

‘‘We’re exhausted. Seriously, we’re exhausted. Israel can do whatever it wants. I’m sitting in my tent. I’ll die in my tent,’’ said Jihan al-Hawajri, who has fled multiple times from the far north down the length of the Gaza Strip and now lives with 30 relatives in a tent.

United Nations officials warn that an attack on Rafah would be catastrophic, with more than 600,000 children in the path of an assault. A move on the town and surrounding area also could cause the collapse of the humanitarian aid system struggling to keep Gaza’s population alive.

Israel says it must take Rafah to ensure Hamas’ destruction. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to come up with an evacuation plan after the United States said it opposed an attack on Rafah unless provisions were made for its population.

‘‘[To] conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster,’’ State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said. ‘‘This is not something that we’d support.’’

Still, Washington has continued its military and diplomatic support for Israel’s campaign despite Israel shrugging off its previous calls to reduce civilian casualties.

The death toll in Gaza continues to mount. Israel says Hamas is responsible for concentrating its forces in civilian areas.

But it’s unclear where civilians would evacuate. Rafah lies trapped between Egypt to the south, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to its east and Israeli troops to its north. Earlier in the war, Israel declared a sliver of rural area on the coast neighbouring Rafah, known as Muwasi, to be a safe zone. But in recent weeks, it has bombarded the zone.

Many Palestinians in Rafah came from Gaza City and want to return there. But so far Israel has shown no willingness to allow a mass movement back north.

Egypt has staunchly refused any mass exodus of Palestinians onto its soil, fearing Israel will not allow them to return. Israel is not likely to let hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into its own territory.

In Rafah, the main squares and streets are full of tents. Other families fill classrooms at UN schools or crowd with relatives in apartments. Everyone is hungry and sick; colds, coughs and intestinal disorders run rampant. Even simple medicines are difficult to find.

UN officials say 90 per cent of Gaza’s population is eating less than one meal a day, and a quarter of the population faces outright famine.

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Article source: The Age & Sydney Morning Herald / AP, Reuters | Nidal al-Mughrabi | 11 February 2024

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000