‘We have no place to go': Rafah residents in despair after Israel orders them to leave

Israeli military told people in eastern Rafah to move west ahead of operations against militants in the area

Palestinians start fleeing Rafah as Israeli assault begins

Palestinians start fleeing Rafah as Israeli assault begins
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Palestinians in Gaza's Rafah have expressed outrage and despair after Israel ordered people to leave the eastern parts as an assault began on the southern city, a move that sparked alarm among humanitarian groups that have long warned of the consequences for civilians

Leaflets dropped by the Israeli army on Monday morning directed people to move west to the coastal area of Al Mawasi, and claimed that the displacement would be “temporary”.

The order affects tens of thousands of people in Rafah, which Israel has identified as the last major stronghold of Hamas after seven months of war.

“A military operation in the heavily populated area of Rafah would be devastating for 1.5 million Palestinians,” Jessica Moussan, media relations adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told The National.

About one million Rafah residents were displaced from other parts of Gaza after Israel launched a military offensive in the territory in early October.

“I don't have anywhere to go, and I didn't buy a tent because I believed that the war would end and we would go back to our home in Gaza [city],” said Aziz Al Turk, 40, who moved to Al Salam district in eastern Rafah.

He said moving with his five children posed great challenges.

“I will face difficulties calming my children because moving is not easy, especially if they notice that people around us are leaving the area,” he told The National.

Rahma Al Hadi, another resident of the area, said she left her home and all her possessions after receiving a phone call from the Israeli army.

“I don’t know where to go or why they are doing this to us. I will go and stay at my daughter house,” she told The National.

“I was expecting to hear the news of a ceasefire but we woke up to the news of invading Rafah,” she said.

Mohammed Moamar who lives in Al Jnina neighbourhood told The National he did not know what do to or where to go.

“We don’t understand anything. There are other neighbours who are from other parts of Gaza and also don’t know where to go – all the places are crowded,” he said.

“All I am thinking about is escaping from one death to another.”

Ahmad Shawish, who found shelter in Al Jnina after fleeing central Gaza at the beginning of the war, said he had been preparing to move to Gaza city in the north before the Israeli order came, but would now leave for Al Mawasi.

“The problem is that all places are crowded and there will not be facilities to use in case they invade Rafah,” Mr Shawish told The National. “It's a catastrophe.”

Ms Moussan said Israel, “as the occupying power, bears the responsibility to ensure that the basic needs of the civilian population are met and that civilian lives are protected”.

According to international humanitarian law or the rules of war, civilians must be safely evacuated and provided with acceptable health and hygiene services, as well as nutrition, she said.

Family members must not be separated in this process, Ms Moussan added.

Once the hostilities have ceased, “civilians must be able to return to their homes, and those unable to evacuate, they are still protected under international humanitarian law”, she said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees also warned of the consequences of an Israeli operation in Rafah and said it would said it would not leave the overcrowded southern city.

“An Israeli offensive in Rafah would mean more civilian suffering and deaths. The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people,” the UNRWA said on X.

“UNRWA is not evacuating: The agency will maintain a presence in Rafah as long as possible and will continue providing life-saving aid to people.”

The UN children's agency said there was “nowhere for the 600,000 children in Rafah to go”.

“More than 200 days of war have taken an unimaginable toll on the lives of children,” Unicef executive director Catherine Russell said.

“Rafah is now a city of children, who have nowhere safe to go in Gaza. If large-scale military operations start, not only will children be at risk from the violence but also from chaos and panic – and at a time where their physical and mental states are already weakened.”

Australia's said it was “gravely concerned by the prospect of a major Israeli ground offensive into Rafah” following Monday's evacuation order.

“Australia, the G7 and so many countries have called on the Netanyahu government to change course. The Foreign Minister has made clear Australia’s view that Israel should not go down this path,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Updated: May 06, 2024, 1:20 PM