The Israeli army has urged people in Rafah to leave more areas of the city, increasing concerns about an expansion of military operations in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city. Families were packing their things all over the city, an employee of the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA wrote on X.

“The streets are significantly emptier.” At the beginning of the week, Israel launched a deployment of ground troops in the eastern outskirts of Rafah to expand the fight against the Islamist Hamas. According to UNRWA on Saturday, 150,000 Palestinians have since fled Rafah. According to the Israeli military there are already 300,000 people.

Israel’s military actions are highly controversial

Israel’s military actions in the part of the sealed-off coastal strip bordering Egypt are highly controversial internationally. Until recently, more than a million people who had fled from other parts of the Gaza Strip were crowded there. An expansion of the Israeli offensive could lead to hundreds of thousands of civilians being caught between the fronts, aid organizations fear. The already precarious supply of people could also collapse completely. The US, Israel’s most important ally, is strongly warning the country against a large-scale offensive. US President Joe Biden recently even threatened to restrict arms deliveries.

The fighting had not yet reached the densely built-up center of Rafah, which was dotted with makeshift refugee camps. On Saturday, however, the Israeli army asked the population to leave other areas in the east and, for the first time, in the center of the city. In a message distributed by the military in Arabic via Platform X, in the form of text messages and in leaflets, the armed forces listed the affected zones, including two refugee camps. It was said that the approximately 300,000 people affected should immediately go to the town of Al-Mawasi on the Mediterranean coast. Aid organizations doubt that large numbers of people can be adequately cared for there.

According to employees, the Kuwait Hospital, the last relatively functioning health facility in Rafah, is also located in the zone in question. Employees confirmed to the dpa news agency by telephone that the clinic’s administration had also received an evacuation order from the Israeli military. So far, management has refused to comply. Instead, efforts are being made to obtain guarantees from the Israeli military through international partners that it will not attack the hospital. However, the prospects of success are uncertain.

Israel’s justification for military action in Rafah

Israel justifies its military action in Rafah, which it threatened months ago, by saying that it wants to destroy the last Hamas battalions and destroy the suspected smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt. After moving in on Tuesday night, troops continued to target Hamas militias in specific locations in eastern Rafah, the military said.

In the last 24 hours, the emergency services there have “taken out numerous terrorists in close combat and destroyed the terrorist infrastructure in the area.” Israeli troops continue to be active on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing. The information could not initially be independently verified.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-controlled health authority said 34,971 Palestinians had been killed and another 78,641 injured since the Gaza war began. In the last 24 hours, 28 people were killed and another 69 were injured. This information could not be independently verified either. The authority does not differentiate between civilians and armed fighters in its information. The Gaza war was triggered by the unprecedented massacre with more than 1,200 deaths that terrorists from Hamas and other groups carried out in Israel on October 7th.

The United Arab Emirates, however, clearly rejected participation in a future local civil administration in the Gaza Strip under the Israeli security regime, as suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Sajid made it clear to X that his country would not allow itself to be drawn into any plans to “provide cover for Israel’s presence in the Gaza Strip.”

Netanyahu said in a recent interview with a US television channel that if Hamas were defeated, there would likely be “some kind of civil administration,” “possibly with the help of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries.” In 2020, the Emirates became the first Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Chancellor Scholz warns Israel against an offensive on Rafah

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned Israel against expanding military operations in the Gaza Strip to include the city of Rafah. “We consider an offensive on Rafah (…) to be irresponsible,” said the SPD politician at a panel discussion organized by the Editorial Network Germany (RND) in Potsdam.

“We caution against this, and we do not believe that there is any concept that this will ultimately occur without incredible human loss to innocent civilians.” At the same time, he reiterated that Israel has the right to defend itself and fight the Islamist Hamas. Humanitarian aid must also come to Gaza and there must be a perspective for peaceful coexistence in which two states can coexist.