Israel extends evacuation orders in Rafah as aid groups struggle to prepare

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel's military issued new evacuation orders in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, forcing even more Palestinians to relocate on Saturday ahead of a possible expanded ground campaign there.

The new evacuation orders include areas close to the city centre. Israel warned that the army would take action “with great force against terrorist organizations” in those areas because of what it said were Hamas battalions in Rafah.

The new military orders come despite international concerns over the threat to the more than 1 million Palestinians taking refuge in Rafah, half of whom are children, according to UNICEF. More than half of Gaza's population was displaced into Rafah, and it was here that most aid groups were based during the last seven months of the war.

Meanwhile, Israel's military also told residents of parts of Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza to move to the western part of Gaza City, saying Hamas had regrouped in those areas.

According to the United Nations, more than 75% of the Gaza Strip is under evacuation orders. People in Rafah told NPR that there is no safe place to flee to in Gaza.

The Israeli military estimates that 300,000 residents have already left Rafah this week after initial evacuation orders for eastern parts of the city on Monday. Many people walked on foot, dragging children and pushing injured people in wheelchairs through streets littered with garbage and sewage.

The army launched its ground offensive in Rafah on Monday night, knocking down Israeli flags on Gaza's border with Egypt. The operation effectively closed Gaza's main crossings for aid and fuel, and means seriously injured Palestinians and foreign aid workers cannot pass through.

The Israeli military described its actions as “precision operations in specific areas of eastern Rafah” and accused Hamas of using Gaza residents as “human shields for its terrorist activities and infrastructure”. In leaflets and messages, the army asked people to go to the areas of al-Mawasi and Khan Younis.

Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7 that sparked the war, says ceasefire talks held in Cairo this week have stalled. The group accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wishing to continue the war “to achieve his personal goals and political ambitions”.

Aid groups are rushing to set up services outside Rafah

UNRWA, the main UN agency overseeing aid to Palestinians, says no food or medical supplies have entered Gaza through the territory's two main crossings since Sunday. According to aid groups, only a few trucks have been able to enter Gaza through the northern border crossing, far less than the amount needed to combat hunger and starvation.

However, the United Nations confirmed that 200,000 liters of fuel was transferred by Israel to Gaza through the southern Kerem Shalom crossing on Friday after almost all bakeries in Gaza were closed. There is also a shortage of fuel for generators in hospitals.

Scott Anderson, UNRWA's senior deputy director in Gaza, tells NPR, “If we don't start getting food on Sunday, we'll start to run out. That means there's nothing left to distribute in warehouses.”

world food program They say Its main warehouse in Rafah is inaccessible due to fighting and evacuation orders.

Rafik al-Madhoun, program manager for the Rebuilding Alliance in Gaza, which partners with WFP to distribute hot meals, says they have reduced the number of cooking stations in Rafah and are opening new ones in those areas of Gaza. Rushing to establish where people live. Running towards.

“Due to the ongoing invasion and the increasing number of refugees, we contacted WFP and told them that the most we can manage is two to three weeks,” he says, referring to the amount of food in stock.

El-Madhoun says they are preparing 60,000 meals a day, almost double what they were preparing this week as people's needs increased. Meanwhile, he says, market prices of basic food items like potatoes are skyrocketing and vegetables and fruits are in short supply.

Much of Gaza faces evacuation orders as hospital in Rafah closes

The United Nations says much of the Gaza Strip is under evacuation orders, as people are crammed into smaller and smaller stretches of territory along its Mediterranean coast.

Aid groups are rushing to set up field clinics and kitchens in the area of ​​al-Mawasi, which the Israeli military has identified as an “extended humanitarian zone”. Aid groups say they are still trying to build health care services in the area.

“Life in Rafah at the moment is a nightmare. There is constant bombing and shelling, almost every 10 minutes,” says Moses Kondowe, Gaza team lead for Project Hope. Which is working to relocate its field clinic in Rafah to Khan Younis.

The non-profit organization says all the team members have been displaced and have started living in tents.

“Thousands of people are still stranded here with no place to go.” Kondowe says. “The situation is unbearable.”

Nearly daily air strikes on homes in Rafah this week have killed dozens of people, many of them women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry and NPR who spoke to survivors.

According to doctors there, this is when hospitals and field clinics in Rafah close their doors and turn away patients.

On Friday, the US State Department said in a report that it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel had violated international humanitarian law while conducting operations in Gaza.

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