Israel expanding so-called 'safe zone' in Gaza as it prepares to invade Rafah

Israel expanding so-called 'safe zone' in Gaza as it prepares to invade Rafah
Israeli preparations are reportedly underway for a ground invasion of Rafah, the last remaining refuge for Gaza's millions of displaced
5 min read
22 April, 2024
World leaders are urging Israel not to invade Rafah, which has already been pounded by deadly airstrikes [Getty]

Israel will significantly expand a so-called "humanitarian zone" in the Gaza Strip that will hold around one million displaced people, as it prepares to invade Rafah, Israel’s Reshet Bet radio station said.

The area will be much larger than the one in Al-Mawasi area in the south of the enclave and will run along the coast, reaching the outskirts of Nuseirat in central Gaza and accommodating a million Palestinians, the radio station said.

According to the report, five field hospitals have been established in the area.

On April 18, American network ABC News quoted an Israeli source that said Israel had made "significant progress" in preparing to evacuate about a million civilians from Rafah before a ground attack on the city.

A ground invasion of the city of Rafah will rapidly worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, suffering under Israel’s more than six-month siege and relentless bombardment.

World leaders – including some of Israel’s closest allies – and rights organisations have told Israel to call off the invasion of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians who fled other parts of Gaza are sheltering.

The UN in February warned Israel that a Rafah invasion "could lead to slaughter."

Over 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel's indiscriminate war on the territory began last October.

Rafah, bordering Egypt’s Sinai, is the last refuge for Gaza’s desperate population but even there Palestinians are not immune from Israel's deadly bombardment.

The city has already come under airstrikes, including an attack over the weekend which killed 22 people, including 18 children, according to health officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says invading Rafah is essential to dismantling Hamas, claiming the Palestinian group still has four brigades in the area and a series of tunnels.

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister vowed to deliver "more painful blows" to Hamas.

"This is what will happen soon... During the next few days, we will intensify military and political pressure on Hamas, as it is the only way to liberate our kidnapped and achieve our victory," he said.

His remarks came hours after the US House of Representatives approved a massive military aid package for Israel, despite growing criticism in the West and around the world over Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

The package is worth $13 billion, which some speculate could be to help prop up the Israeli army before a likely Rafah invasion.

Hamas condemned the new military funding, saying it continued to assist Israel in its genocide against the Palestinian people.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Monday also reported that the Israeli army had been taking initial steps in the past week for a possible invasion of Rafah after months of threatening to storm the city.

The Israeli military has in recent days replaced brigades in Gaza, and this is reportedly to do with the planned invasion of Rafah.

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Egypt's growing concerns

Earlier last week Haaretz said that Cairo and the Ramallah-based PA have "already accepted" the fact that Israel will enter Rafah.

Egypt has already warned Israel about the plan to invade Rafah. These warnings were mentioned by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Sunday, who was on a visit to Istanbul where he met with the Turkish president.

Egypt has taken measures on its own side of the border, including stepping up military reinforcements along the Gaza Strip border fence.

Cairo is not only worried about the disastrous humanitarian consequences of attacking Rafah, or any possible Israeli strikes on its own territory, such as in October when Israel said it "accidentally" hit an Egyptian military post on the Kerem Shalom border area.

Egypt, particularly since the start of the Gaza war, is growing increasingly concerned with a possible influx of Palestinian refugees and Israel's plans to militarise the Philadelphi Corridor.

The strategic corridor is a 14-kilometre-long and 100-metre-wide buffer zone established according to the terms of the 1978 Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had informed Egypt of its plans to take control of the corridor. But Egyptian State Information Service chief Diaa Rashwan - tasked with overseeing the foreign press in Egypt - refuted the allegations, saying they were baseless "lies."

Egypt has also accused Israel of trying to displace the people of Gaza and force them out of the territory permanently, leaving them with no choice but to seek refuge in Sinai.

Extremits Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and other officials have openly expressed their desire to see Palestinians expelled from Gaza.

Egypt is one of the mediators negotiating a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel which seeks to put a stop to the Gaza war.

The talks have stalled however, as Israel has refused to withdraw from towns and cities in the Gaza Strip and allow Palestinians to return. These are key demands of Hamas and other Palestinian factions.