Rafah invasion awaits Israeli government green light as military preparations underway

Rafah invasion awaits Israeli government green light as military preparations underway
Israel has relocated troops to the south of Gaza and and satellite imagery is showing tents near Khan Younis, prompting fears the invasion is just days away
4 min read
25 April, 2024
More than 1.5 million Palestinians took refuge in Rafah in makeshift tents [GETTY]

Israel's long-delayed invasion of Rafah, Gaza's southern city where more than one million Palestinians have sought refuge, is expected to begin in the coming days following months of threats.

Rafah has been transformed into the "largest displacement camp on earth" after thousands of families fled to the city amid Israeli violence and the destruction of their homes in the north and centre of the strip. It is also a major humanitarian hub for aid storage and distribution, much of it entering via the Egypt border.

Despite major international concerns, Israel has pressed ahead with military preparations for an invasion of the city, which it believes is concealing four Hamas battalions, and has stated that achieving its war objectives is impossible without a ground incursion.

Israel's army said on Wednesday that it had relocated two reserve brigades from the north to the south and they are currently undergoing training.

Government spokesperson David Mencer said that Israel is "moving ahead" with the Rafah operation but did not disclose a date.

"The four battalions which remain in Rafah cannot be shielded from Israel. They will be attacked," Mencer said during a press conference, in reference to Hamas.

Mencer added that "two reserve brigades" had been mobilised "for defensive and tactical missions in Gaza".

Additionally, new satellite images reveal rows of white tents in Khan Younis, another major city in the south that was recently devastated by a months-long Israeli military assault.

Israel is believed to be planning to relocate Palestinians from Rafah to these tents, as well as expanding the "humanitarian zone" along the Al-Mawasi beach area west of Rafah.

However, these plans have drawn scepticism from humanitarian groups, who warn that previously designated Israeli army 'safe zones' have been attacked, resulting in civilians  being killed.

The collapse of sanitation and lack of access to clean water have also created inadequate conditions for living and left the majority of civilians fully dependent on aid for survival.

This week, humanitarian agencies reported receiving no coordination or plans from Israeli authorities regarding a Rafah invasion, stating that evacuating people would be extremely challenging.

The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland told AFP: "We are completely in the dark on how to mitigate this countdown to a catastrophe."

More than 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge in the city, which has been under aerial bombardment for weeks, despite Israel previously designating it a 'safe zone' when it forced people from the north and centre of the enclave to relocate after its devastating ground and air assault.

Israel's closest ally, the United States, has warned that an invasion could lead to mass civilian casualties and jeopardise aid distribution.

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But Washington reaffirmed its support for the war by passing a multibillion-dollar military aid package for Israel in Congress earlier this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning since January that his military would invade Rafah. Since then, humanitarian agencies have attempted to persuade the international community and Israel's Western backers that an invasion risks mass civilian casualties.

The threat has also prompted security concerns for Egypt, which borders Rafah. Cairo is believed to be worried that an invasion could could lead to a massive influx of Palestinians breaching its border.

It was reported this week that senior Israeli intelligence officials met with Egypt’s intelligence chief in Cairo to discuss Israel's planned invasion of Rafah.

This week, temperatures have soared and the heat is bringing further health complications. On Wednesday, Gaza's health ministry warned that the spread of diseases and infections were rife because of streets overflowing with sewage and rubbish.

Israeli attacks have destroyed water desalination plants and sewage systems, while the Netanyahu government switched off water pipes into the territory when they declared war on 7 October.