Israel Military Calls on Palestinian Civilians to Evacuate Rafah

REUTERS/Hatem Khaled
People flee the eastern parts of Rafah after the Israeli military began evacuating Palestinian civilians ahead of a threatened assault on the southern Gazan city, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 6, 2024.

JERUSALEM, May 6 (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Monday it had begun encouraging residents of Rafah to evacuate the southern Gazan city as part of a ‘limited scope’ operation, but did not immediately confirm media reports this was part of preparation for a ground assault.

Seven months into its offensive against Hamas, Israel has said Rafah harbors thousands of the Palestinian Islamist group’s fighters and that victory is impossible without taking the city.

But with more than a million displaced Palestinians sheltering there, the prospect of a high-casualty operation worries Western powers and neighboring Egypt.

In what appeared to be the beginning of a civilian evacuation ahead of a ground assault, the Israeli military called on Palestinians in eastern parts of Rafah to move to a nearby “humanitarian area.”

In a statement on Monday, the military said posters, text messages, phone calls and media announcements would be used to “encourage … the gradual movement of civilians in the specified areas”.

Although people were being moved into humanitarian areas that were “safer,” the Israeli military cautioned that Hamas was known to fire from those areas.

It added that it was not setting a timeframe for the Rafah evacuation, however, but would make operational assessments.

It estimated it would need to move 100,000 people from Rafah in the ‘limited scope’ evacuation.

Earlier, an Israeli broadcaster, Army Radio, had said Israel’s armed forces had begun evacuating Palestinian civilians ahead of a threatened assault, although the military did not confirm that report.

Army Radio said evacuations were focused on a few peripheral districts of Rafah, from which evacuees would be directed to tent cities in nearby Khan Younis and Al Muwassi.

The war began after Hamas stunned Israel with a cross-border raid on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 252 hostages taken, according to Israeli tallies.