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Dhaka Tribune

Israel’s Rafah assault leaves Gazans stranded

  • Israel has launched attacks on eastern Rafah after ordering people to evacuate
  • Troops have taken control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing
  • Residents and displaced people fear the worst
Update : 08 May 2024, 08:00 PM

The spontaneous celebrations on the streets of Gaza didn’t last long on Monday night.

Shortly after Hamas had announced that it had accepted a cease-fire deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar, heavy explosions were reported in the eastern part of Rafah, where the Israeli army had ordered people to evacuate immediately on Monday morning.

Late on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office said that the cease-fire proposal fell short of Israel’s demands and that the war cabinet had agreed to continue the operation in Rafah.

Officials suggested that Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the US, the EU and others, had agreed to a different proposal to the one Israel had negotiated. Nevertheless, Israeli officials said they would send a delegation to continue talks with the mediators.

On Tuesday morning, a military official confirmed that Israeli troops had launched what they described as a targeted operation in certain areas of eastern Rafah and were controlling the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing.

The gateway to Egypt remains the only option for Palestinians to leave the territory and is one of the main crossings for aid to enter Gaza.

The fast-moving developments left many in Rafah confused and fearful. Ghada Rafiq, 30, whose family was heading to Khan Younis, hoped that an Israeli ground operation would still be averted.

Desperate Gazans with nowhere to go

“The thought of returning to a tent with no water and minimal services is frightening,” Rafiq told DW by phone. “Where will we go? What are we going to do? We desperately want a cease-fire and a truce. I pray to God for a quick cease-fire agreement and for the army not to enter Rafah.”

The day had begun with devastating news for the thousands of people sheltering in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah. In the early hours of the morning, the Israeli military had dropped leaflets and sent recorded phone messages to people in eastern Rafah, ordering them to leave the area and relocate near Al-Mawasi on the western shore of the Gaza Strip.

On Monday morning, a military official told foreign journalists that the evacuation was “limited” and that the army had ordered some 100,000 people in specific neighborhoods to move to “an expanded humanitarian zone” near the coastal road.

Thousands of Gazans on the move again

For months, the threat of an imminent Israeli ground offensive has hung over Rafah and its residents. Soon after, people began to leave, packing their belongings into cars or on donkey carts. Others simply walked with a few bags in their hands on this unseasonably cold and rainy day. Once again, thousands were on the move, exhausted by months of bombing and displacement.

Rafiq was one of them. She awoke on Monday morning to the sound of her mobile phone ringing.

“It was a recorded message from the Israeli army ordering us to evacuate eastern Rafah. We live in the al-Janina neighborhood, east of Rafah, one of the areas designated for evacuation,” she said.

The young Palestinian woman is from northern Gaza and, like many others, has been displaced several times in the past seven months after the Israeli military ordered people to leave the area.

“We were first in the Jabalia refugee camp, then we went to the Nuseirat refugee camp, then to Deir al-Balah [in central Gaza], and then to Rafah,” she said.

The night before had been difficult, she said, because of intensive bombing.

“Since early this morning, we’ve heard artillery shells in the eastern regions, with some targets being hit with airstrikes,” said Rafiq, who has been displaced together with her four siblings and their parents.

“We decided to leave our home and head to Khan Younis. We brought a tent from our time in Deir al-Balah. We are gripped by fear and anxiety about what’s to come,” she said.

Hamas officials said at least 22 people were killed in Rafah on Monday night. More than 34,500 people have been killed so far, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, since Israel launched a retaliatory war following Hamas’ resistance campaign on southern communities in Israel on October 7.

Israel intent on Rafah offensive

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that with or without a deal to free some of the 128 remaining hostages taken on October 7, he will launch a full-scale ground offensive on Rafah.

Western and regional countries, among them Israel’s closest ally the United States, have warned against such an operation, saying it could lead to massive civilian casualties. Israel accuses Hamas of hiding among the civilian population and says it must enter Rafah to destroy four Hamas battalions to win the war.

More than a million people have sought refuge in Gaza’s southernmost city on the border with Egypt and simply don’t know where else to go. It’s unclear what happens to those who can’t leave: The elderly, the sick or those who simply don’t want to leave because they don’t think it’s safe enough.

Fadel Qandeel, 54, is from Rafah and decided to stay in his house, even though his family lives near one of the evacuation areas.

“Today is scary in every sense of the word. Despite earlier threats of a military operation in Rafah, the atmosphere has been different since this morning,” Qandeel told DW by phone. “As leaflets were thrown into Rafah for evacuation, the scenes of people carrying simple belongings and leaving their homes were painful,” he said.

The father of seven said he simply didn’t know where to go with his large family. He hopes a cease-fire will be agreed soon, but the constant ups and downs of the negotiations have taken a heavy toll.

“The positive news of the cease-fire has eased my fear a little, but I’m not sure if it will work. I’m not optimistic, but I hope to be proved wrong,” Qandeel said.

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