A ground invasion of Rafah, the last corner that can be occupied in the Gaza Strip, is imminent. But before that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the army and the Ministry of Defense for a plan that included the evacuation of the civilian population. Half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million is concentrated in this city located on the border with Egypt, crammed into tents and improvised shelters in deplorable conditions. From 4,100 people per square kilometer in Rafah before the war, there are now 19,600 people. For this reason, both the United Nations and the United States have repeatedly expressed their concern about the possible expansion of Israeli forces in this region.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday said, “It is clear that carrying out a large-scale operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from combat areas.” In turn, he declared that “it is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas while keeping four battalions in Rafah” that have not yet been dismantled. Netanyahu called on the Israeli army and defense to present a “double plan” to the Council of Ministers, to evacuate the population and dissolve the battalions. Netanyahu is responding to pressure from his main ally after US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that the White House “will not support” an operation in Rafah.
Entry of humanitarian aid
Another Foreign Ministry spokesman said there appeared to be “little planning or thought” for such a move by Tel Aviv, noting that the Rafah crossing is also an important entry point for humanitarian aid. Israeli air strikes on this area have increased in recent days. During the past 24 hours, 107 deaths were recorded in the entire enclave.
A CARE International worker told the newspaper after his return from Rafah: “The streets are full of people, carts drawn by donkeys and horses.” “Shelters in schools, community centers and hospitals are completely overwhelmed, so people are now simply setting up temporary shelters wherever there is space,” he said, “absolutely impressed.”
Currently, the Israeli army is focusing on Gan Yunis, a Hamas stronghold in the south. But Defense Minister Yoav Galant had indicated several times last week that Israel would advance toward Rafah, the “safe zone” to which residents of the areas under attack had been ordered to go. Although the border town was the target of several air strikes, Israeli tanks have not yet reached Rafah, which became the last area to be occupied in the enclave. Aside from the humanitarian catastrophe that a ground invasion might cause, it would also have consequences for the neighboring country. Egypt has already said that any operation there or a mass cross-border exodus would undermine its four-decade-old peace treaty with Israel, and has expressed fears that 1.3 million displaced Palestinians could storm the border in their umpteenth attempt to survive.
“People have fled bombs and destruction so many times that the soles of their shoes have literally worn off or their shoes are damaged beyond repair,” recounts a CARE worker. “There are families who rent shoes to people who no longer have shoes, and they pay an hourly rate so that they do not walk barefoot to the market or somewhere to collect water,” he explains to EL PERIODICO.
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