Israel’s army has begun evacuating the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip ahead of an expected military operation. The military called on residents of the eastern part of the city on the border with Egypt to go to the Al-Mawasi camp on the Mediterranean, a few kilometers north.

An estimated 100,000 people are affected, a military spokesman said. They were therefore informed by SMS, telephone, leaflets and Arabic-language media.

Indirect negotiations between Israel and the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas in Cairo over a new ceasefire in the Gaza war and the release of hostages in return for Palestinian prisoners had previously remained unsuccessful.

The military spokesman said it was a “limited operation.” People should move to an “enhanced humanitarian zone” in the Al-Mawasi area. There is food, water and medicine there. The army also built field hospitals there. He couldn’t say how much time people have to evacuate.

Israel wants to destroy Hamas

The spokesman emphasized that the supply of humanitarian aid to the population would continue unhindered during the evacuation operation. These could be brought to the coastal strip via various routes, such as via the port in Ashdod.

With the military operation in Rafah, Israel wants to destroy the remaining battalions of the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas, which it has been fighting in the coastal strip since October. There are also suspected hostages in the city on the border with Egypt.

Israel’s allies had been warning urgently for months against such an offensive in Rafah because hundreds of thousands of Palestinian internally displaced people are crowding there. However, Israel believes the operation is essential to ensure the destruction of Hamas’ fighting capabilities. Otherwise it could regain strength after the end of the war.

Evacuation could take weeks

The military spokesman said Israel had received a “violent reminder of Hamas’ presence and operational capabilities in Rafah” the previous day. Members of the Hamas military wing fired rockets at the Israeli border crossing at Kerem Shalom on Sunday, killing three Israeli soldiers. Kerem Shalom is the main border crossing for the delivery of aid from Israel to the Gaza Strip. The army temporarily closed it to humanitarian transport after the rocket attack. According to its own statements, the military then bombed the place in the Gaza Strip near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt from which the attack had originated.

Before combat operations in Rafah, Israel says it wants to evacuate the city first. It is expected that this could take several weeks. Israel said Hamas had prepared its fighters in Rafah for operations against Israel and provided them with provisions and weapons. According to media reports, the number of guards for the hostages has also been increased.

According to information from the Wall Street Journal, Israel wants to carry out its ground offensive in Rafah in stages. The paper wrote of two to three weeks of evacuation and six weeks of offensive.

Egypt fears an influx of internally displaced people

Senior Israeli intelligence and military officials met in Cairo last month, among others, with the Egyptian intelligence chief to discuss Israel’s planned deployment of its army in Rafah. The chairman of the Egyptian state information service SIS, Diaa Raschwan, had previously stated that there were no discussions with Israel about its possible military offensive in Rafah. Egypt firmly rejects plans for such an offensive and has made this position clear several times. The city in the south is considered the only one in the sealed-off coastal strip that is still comparatively intact.

Egypt fears, among other things, that an Israeli deployment in Rafah could lead to a rush of Palestinians across the border. The border crossing from the Gaza Strip to Egypt is in Rafah, and it is also an important gateway for humanitarian aid deliveries to the sealed-off coastal strip. Heavy fighting in Rafah could further complicate deliveries of food, medicine and fuel.