'We deserve dignity', say Gazans living in fear of looming Israeli attack on Rafah

The city hosts about 1.4 million Palestinians who fled fighting elsewhere in the territory, according to the UN

Displaced Palestinians live in tents in Rafah, Gaza. The UN warns of a 'large scale' loss of life if the Israeli army attacks Rafah. Getty Images
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Fears are growing over a looming Israeli attack on Rafah, the only city in Gaza not yet targeted by the Israeli ground offensive. It is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million population.

At least 25 people were killed in a morning strike on a home in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, Palestinian media reported, which came just a day after 42 people were killed in Israeli strikes and raids on the city.

“During the past week, we have witnessed an intensification of Israeli air strikes on the city of Rafah. Many densely populated areas with refugees are extensively targeted, resulting in the daily killing of dozens of residents,” Maha Hussaini, the strategy Director of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, told The National.

The US warned Israel that an invasion of Rafah would be a “disaster”.

At least 25 Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on Rafah

At least 25 Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on Rafah

The UK expressed it is “deeply concerned” for Israel's apparent planning of the military operation in Rafah, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Saturday.

The UAE, Spain, Germany and Jordan have all also expressed worries that Israel's plan is a crisis-in-waiting.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned “another bloodbath in Gaza cannot be allowed”, in a post on X.

“Since the first day of this attack, we have witnessed frequent air strikes on densely populated residential areas. The only difference today is that the army has displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from various areas of the Gaza Strip to Rafah,” said Ms Hussaini.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the military to prepare to evacuate civilians from Rafah ahead of an expanded offensive against Hamas, despite concern it will worsen an already critical situation for Gazans.

Mr Netanyahu told military and security officials to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas, his office said on Friday.

“Most of them say they will stay in Rafah even if they are killed because there is no safe place after Rafah,” said Ms Hussaini.

The city had a prewar population of about 280,000 but now hosts about another 1.4 million people who fled fighting elsewhere in the territory, the UN said.

I was displaced from my home and forced to flee on foot to the south, and now Rafah could be invaded. Where are we supposed to go?
Amna Ghaban, displaced Gazan in Rafah

Aid groups warned it is not possible to evacuate everyone from the city.

Amna Ghaban, 46, is a resident of Al Shatee camp who fled to Rafah with her family. They are currently staying in an empty shop because there are no vacant rental houses left in Rafah.

“We are experiencing the worst time anyone can live through,” Mrs Ghaban told The National.

“I was displaced from my home and forced to flee on foot to the south, and now Rafah could be invaded. Where are we supposed to go?” she added.

The Palestinian Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has warned against any military operation in Rafah saying there is no other place for people to evacuate to.

“People are currently not allowed to return to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, and also, most residential units in the north have become destroyed,” Tamara Al Rifai, the representative for UNRWA said, on Sunday.

The military operation in Rafah would lead to “the same consequences we have witnessed before”, she said, “meaning the killing and displacement of more people”.

Prices of items have more than doubled Gazans say, and they are unable to buy even the most basic necessities to survive. “I keep telling my 12-year-old child to wait until we go back home, but I fear that when we return, our home will be destroyed,” Mrs Ghaban said.

“We deserve dignity; we are human beings and have struggled enough,” she added.

Most of the people in Rafah have been displaced by fighting in other parts of Gaza and are living in tents.

“My son heard the news and came to ask me if we are going to move again because the Israeli army is expected to come here. I don't know how to answer him. This child should be spending his time playing, not worrying about safety,” Yosef Ouda, 35, from Gaza city who is now living in a tent in Rafah, told The National.

Rafah is the only crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.

The Israeli army advanced towards the border city at the end of last week, warning that its army might imminently enter the city.

Much of northern and central Gaza has been reduced to ruins by sustained Israeli bombardment since the war began on 7 October.

More than 28,100 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza and another 67,611 have been wounded and thousands more are missing.

Updated: February 11, 2024, 1:24 PM