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Israeli army tells Palestinians to temporarily evacuate parts of Rafah ahead of an expected assault

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, shelter at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Israel’s armed forces have begun evacuating Palestinian civilians from Rafah ahead of a threatened assault on the southern Gazan city, an Israeli broadcaster said on Monday.

The military gave no immediate confirmation of the report on Army Radio, which said evacuations were focused on a few peripheral districts of Rafah, from which evacuees would be directed to tent cities in nearby Khan Younis and Al Muwassi.

In what appeared to be the beginning of a civilian evacuation ahead of a ground assault, however, the Israeli military called on Palestinians in eastern parts of Rafah to move to a nearby “humanitarian area”.

In a statement, the military said posters, text messages, phone calls and media announcements would be used to “encourage … the gradual movement of civilians in the specified areas”.

People were told to move to Muwasi, an Israeli-declared humanitarian area near the coast. The army said it had expanded assistance into the area, including field hospitals, tents, food and water.

The announcement comes amid fragile cease-fire talks and ahead of a highly anticipated ground offensive that Israel has been vowing to undertake for months to weed out the remaining Hamas militants.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed Hamas wasn’t serious about a deal and warned of “a powerful operation in the very near future in Rafah.”

His comments came after Hamas attacked Israel’s main crossing point on Sunday for delivering assistance, killing three soldiers.

Seven months into its offensive against Hamas, Israel has said Rafah harbours thousands of the Palestinian Islamist group’s fighters and that victory is impossible without taking the city.

But with more than a million displaced Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, the prospect of a high-casualty operation worries Western powers and neighboring Egypt.

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