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Israel Orders Evacuation in Rafah, Hours After Raiding Al Jazeera Offices

“The biggest genocide will take place, the biggest catastrophe will take place in Rafah,” one Palestinian said.

Palestinians inspect a damaged house after Israeli warplanes bombed buildings in Rafah, on May 6, 2024.

Israeli forces are striking Rafah just hours after ordering the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the city, appearing to lay the groundwork for officials’ pledged brutal invasion of the city where 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped, half of whom are children, with nowhere left to go.

The evacuation order came down on Monday, with Israeli forces claiming that the evacuation is “temporary” but going on to reportedly bomb residential areas where people have been taking shelter. The Israeli military has vowed to act with “extreme force” in the city, which was Palestinians’ last refuge in Gaza after the Israeli military bulldozed much of the rest of the region.

According to Hamas officials, about 250,000 people in the area of Rafah have received the order, with Rafah having an extremely dense population of civilians after Israel forced the majority of Gaza’s population to flee there.

Those still alive, who are battered, hungry, potentially injured and deeply traumatized, have been left with little choice: Stay in Rafah and risk being killed by Israeli forces’ bombardment and raid, or attempt to make the impossible calculation of what to pack up and how to transport an entire family in order to flee.

There is nowhere left to go in Gaza. Rafah is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, where Israel has struck Palestinian boats; Egypt in the west, which has closed its border to Palestinians; Israel in the south; and Khan Yunis to the east, which Israeli forces have completely leveled in the lead up to their pledged invasion of Rafah. Palestinians who have tried to evacuate to Khan Yunis have reported finding nothing but rubble and having to navigate potentially unexploded bombs and mass graves.

Though Rafah was deemed a safe zone as Israel ravaged the northern and central parts of Gaza, Israeli forces have also been bombing the southern city; the military showered the city with bombs before dropping leaflets ordering Palestinians to go to supposed “humanitarian” areas in Khan Yunis, where they will likely be attacked anyway.

Israeli forces carried out the evacuation order just hours after Israel’s cabinet voted to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel and raided its offices. The outlet is one of the few international outlets that operates in Israel and Palestine, and its reporting has been crucial in showing conditions on the ground in Gaza that other outlets have not had access to.

This is Israel’s latest and most sweeping attack on the outlet so far as Israeli forces have killed dozens of journalists, including Al Jazeera reporters, amid the genocide. This has severely hampered the media’s ability to depict the horror that Israel is inflicting on Palestinians — likely a goal of Israeli forces as officials seek to censor the atrocities they are committing in Gaza. Indeed, as Israeli officials raided Al Jazeera, the military was unleashing yet more bombs on Rafah as Palestinians were attempting to flee.

Without intervention from the U.S. and other allies of Israel, this will be just the beginning for Palestinians in Rafah, with Israeli officials having warned for months that they will totally annihilate the city.

The implications of this are horrific. Israel has already destroyed the majority of housing in Gaza, utterly dismantled the health system, and created a famine across the region; the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, facing death around every corner, will not have a single city left to take refuge in if Rafah is also decimated. Many who were taking shelter in Rafah were already living in tents and makeshift shelters, with a large proportion of families there having been displaced multiple times up until this point.

“We have been awake since two in the morning because of the bombardment, and we woke up in the morning to find rain pouring, we drowned in the rain, our clothes and items as well — we are out on the streets,” Aminah Adwan, a woman sheltering in a camp for displaced people in Rafah, told Reuters. “We also woke up to much worse news, the call to evacuate Rafah. The biggest genocide will take place, the biggest catastrophe will take place in Rafah.”

The Rafah evacuation order came after Israeli officials rejected a negotiated ceasefire deal last week, accepted by Hamas officials, to release the Israeli hostages in exchange for a ceasefire; Israeli officials said that there were “no circumstances” in which they would end their siege to free the hostages.

Following those negotiations, Hamas officials said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent pledges to invade Rafah regardless of any potential agreements forced them to dig down in talks in order to protect the city from a raid.

But Israeli officials appear set on an invasion of Rafah, which Palestinians, advocates and humanitarian groups have warned would be catastrophic, in the Israeli government’s genocidal quest to bulldoze Gaza. On Monday, Hamas announced that it had once again accepted a ceasefire deal, this one presented by Egypt and Qatar officials, with U.S. involvement, that would likely involve the release of some hostages and a drawing back of Israel’s offensive, but an Israeli official has said that Israel will not agree to the deal, per an early report on the situation by Reuters.