Israel orders 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate Rafah ahead of 'imminent' invasion

6 May 2024, 07:24 | Updated: 6 May 2024, 10:09

The Israeli army has told Palestinians to leave parts of Rafah in southern Gaza.
The Israeli army has told Palestinians to leave parts of Rafah in southern Gaza. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Israel has ordered thousands of Palestinians to evacuate eastern Rafah, ahead of an imminent ground invasion.

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The Israeli Defence Force says the evacuation affects 100,000 people in Rafah, which now has an estimated population of 1.4m.

The Palestinian civilians affected are being ordered to leave parts of eastern Rafah and head towards tent cities in nearby Khan Younis and Al Mawasi.

The IDF is sending text messages, flyers, phone calls, social media alerts and media broadcasts in Arabic to tell people to move.

The order to evacuate comes a day after Hamas militants carried out a deadly rocket attack from an area near the Rafah crossing that killed three Israeli soldiers.

Lt Col Nadav Shoshani, an Israeli army spokesman, said on Monday morning Israel is preparing a "limited scope operation" but would not say whether it was the beginning of a broader invasion of the city.

Lt Col Shoshani would not say whether the upcoming Rafah operation is a response to Sunday's attack by Hamas.

He said the incident would have no effect on the amounts of badly needed aid entering Gaza because other crossing points remain operational.

It comes amid fragile ceasefire talks and ahead of a highly anticipated ground offensive that Israel has been vowing to undertake for months.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops on Sunday that Hamas was not serious about a deal and warned of "a powerful operation in the very near future in Rafah".

"We are observing worrying signs that Hamas does not intend to reach an agreement with us," he said.

"This means the operation in Rafah is imminent."

Read more: Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks break down and spark fears of imminent invasion of Rafah by IDF

Read more: Gaza descends into ‘full-blown famine’ amid Israeli restrictions on food deliveries to the region, UN official declares

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected a ceasefire proposal, saying it would have allowed Hamas time to rebuild and launch future attacks.

Mr Netanyahu said Hamas' call for a withdrawal of all troops from Gaza and an end to the war is unacceptable.

"Surrendering to the demands of Hamas would be a terrible defeat for the State of Israel," the Israeli PM said in a statement.

Israel also ordered the local offices of Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite news network to close on Sunday, escalating a long-running feud between the broadcaster and Mr Netanyahu's hard-line government as Doha-mediated ceasefire negotiations with Hamas hung in the balance.

The order, which included confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel's reports and blocking its websites, is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shut a foreign news outlet.

Al Jazeera went off Israel's main cable provider in the hours after the order. However, its website and streaming links across multiple online platforms still operated on Sunday.

Talks around a ceasefire have been ongoing for some time, with Israel demanding the return of hostages currently being held in captivity by Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu went on to say: "While Hamas remains entrenched in its extreme positions, first among them the demand to remove all our forces from the Gaza Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas in power."

More "massacres, rapes and kidnapping" would then occur, Mr Netanyahu continued.

Meanwhile, Hamas said it remains "keen to reach a comprehensive, interconnected agreement that ends the aggression, guarantees withdrawal, and achieves a serious prisoner exchange deal".

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