July 19, 2024

The main United Nations agency aiding Palestinians in Gaza said early Sunday that about 300,000 people had fled over the past week from Rafah, the city in the enclave’s southernmost tip where more than a million displaced Gazans had sought shelter from Israeli bombardments elsewhere over the past seven months.

The U.N. agency, known as UNRWA, made the announcement on social media hours after the Israeli government issued new evacuation orders in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza, deepening fears that the Israeli military was preparing to invade the city despite international warnings.

The World Food Program echoed those warnings on Sunday, expressing concern about displacement of civilians and saying that a full-scale invasion of Rafah would be “catastrophic.”

“Families are once again on the move, searching for shelter, food, water — but with fewer resources,” it wrote on social media.

Paltel, the Gaza Strip’s largest telecommunications company, said on Sunday that internet service was down in parts of southern Gaza because of Israeli military operations and that crews were working to restore services “as quickly as possible.”

Doctors Without Borders, an aid group whose staff members have been working in Gaza during the war, also said on social media that it had started to refer the last 22 patients at one hospital, the Rafah Indonesian Field Hospital, to other facilities because it could “no longer guarantee their safety.”

Gaza’s health care system is in a state of near collapse, and one of the three major hospitals in Rafah that were partly functioning before the Israeli military’s operation there this month has already shut down.

There has been intense bombardment and fighting around Rafah since Monday, when Israel seized control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, largely halting the flow of aid. Dozens of people have been killed by Israeli strikes in Rafah since then, local health officials say.

Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets over parts of Rafah and over a part of northern Gaza on Saturday that ordered people to flee. The warning about Rafah added to existing evacuations orders there.

The Israeli military has told Gazans in Rafah to temporarily evacuate to an “expanded humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi,” a coastal area north of the city that the United Nations and international officials have stressed is neither safe nor equipped to receive them.

“Forcing civilians to evacuate Rafah to unsafe zones is intolerable,” Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, wrote late Saturday on the social media platform X. He urged Israel not to go ahead with a ground offensive in Rafah, saying it would “further exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis.”

Israel has called its incursions into eastern Rafah this month “precise operations” targeting Hamas, the armed group that led the Oct. 7 attacks into southern Israel. Several countries and international aid groups have condemned the prospect of a full-scale Rafah invasion, saying it would be catastrophic for civilians.

President Biden paused an arms shipment to Israel out of concern that the weapons might be used in a major assault on Rafah, and he has warned that the United States would withhold certain weapons, including heavy bombs and artillery shells, if Israel goes ahead with the operation.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

#Gazans #Fled #Rafah #U.N

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