Hopes for ceasefire between Israel and Hamas fade, Palestinians told to evacuate East Rafah ahead of expected offensive

The Israeli army ordered Palestinians in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah to evacuate on Monday, ahead of a ground offensive long promised by the Jewish state's leaders. The message was delivered with flyers, phone calls, messages and media broadcasts in Arabic after a weekend that offered hope for a new ceasefire in the next seven months. Israel-Hamas war stormed again.

People began fleeing quickly from the eastern part of Rafah on Monday, on foot or by any other means available to them. Just hours after the evacuation order was issued, there were reports of Israeli airstrikes on eastern Rafah, but the army did not immediately confirm new attacks on the busy city.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had stressed last week that it planned to carry out an incursion into Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city, despite last-ditch efforts led by the US, Qatar and Egypt to broker a new ceasefire to come to the fire.

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL CONFLICT
Displaced Palestinians in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, pack their belongings following an evacuation order from the Israeli army, on May 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

AFP/Getty


However, these diplomatic efforts appeared to fail on Sunday, with Israel and Hamas blaming each other for the standoff and Hamas subsequently carry out a deadly missile attack at an Israeli military checkpoint near a major border crossing between Israel and Gaza.

President Biden has pressured Israel for weeks to limit the scope of any Rafah operation and not launch a ground offensive on the city without guaranteeing the safety of more than 1 million displaced Palestinian civilians believed to have sought refuge there from across the Gaza Strip .

The Israeli army said on Monday it expected to evacuate as many as 100,000 people from the eastern part of Rafah. The messages told residents to move several kilometers northwest to the al-Mawasi area on Gaza's Mediterranean coast, where humanitarian aid has been prepared. The military said those preparations include basic needs such as food, water and medicine in addition to a field hospital.

While there was hopeful last week that the latest wave of international diplomacy could yield a new deal to secure the release of dozens more Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a halt to fighting – averting a Rafah offensive – the IDF seemed to realize in the aftermath of that operation to prepare for the Hamas attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Israeli soldiers and medics walk next to an ambulance after the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing
Israeli soldiers and medics walk near an ambulance after the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing, near Israel's border with Gaza in southern Israel, May 5, 2024.

Amir Cohen/REUTERS


Hamas militants launched the rocket attack on Sunday from the eastern part of Rafah, hitting the IDF checkpoint only about 300 meters away, next to the border crossing point. The attack killed four IDF soldiers and wounded at least several more, the army said on Monday, raising by one the death toll from the day before.

The IDF would not confirm that the evacuation order issued on Monday was directly related to the Hamas attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhuri was quoted by Reuters news agency on Monday as saying the evacuation order represented “a dangerous escalation” on Israel's part, which he warned would “have consequences.”

Zuhuri accused the US of continuing to support Israel in the war, which was sparked by Hamas' unprecedented Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, in which the militants killed some 1,200 people and took about 240 others hostage. About 100 of these prisoners, including five U.S. citizens, are believed to be alive and held by Hamas or its allies in Gaza.

The Axios news outlet said on Monday, citing an unnamed Hamas official, that the group – long designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the US – threatened to walk away from negotiations for a new release of hostages and a ceasefire due to the evacuation order.


Jordan's Queen Rania al Abdullah says the US is seen as an enabler of Israel

12:25

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a visit Sunday to IDF forces in Gaza that Israel saw “signs that Hamas does not intend to follow any plan” for a ceasefire, which he said “ would mean intense action in Rafah in the region.” near future, and in other places throughout the strip.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have taken refuge in Rafah – many of them displaced several times by Israel's war with Hamas rulers in Gaza – Monday morning brought even more fear and uncertainty.

“They are calling people in the eastern part of Rafah, some also in the west, near the Rafah border crossing, and ordering them to leave,” said Palestinian Abu Muhey, who was sheltering with relatives north of Rafah. “We don't know what to do, but I will take my family to Deir Al-Balah,” he said, suggesting they might try to flee even further north into the decimated Palestinian territory.

Given the scale of destruction already in Gaza, U.S. officials have for weeks expressed concerns about the feasibility of moving so many people out of harm's way ahead of a possible Rafah offensive. The United Nations, along with neighboring countries and a range of aid agencies, has meanwhile issued a series of increasingly dire warnings that a large-scale military operation in the city would put hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk of death.

“An Israeli offensive in #Rafah would mean more civilian suffering and deaths. The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people,” the UN humanitarian agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, reiterated in a social media post on Monday.

“UNRWA is not evacuating,” the UN agency stated bluntly in its tweet. “The Agency will maintain a presence in Rafah for as long as possible and continue to provide life-saving assistance to people.”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of neighboring Jordan, in a message posted on Monday warned on social media that “a new massacre of Palestinians is in the making.”

“Israel warns Palestinians to leave Rafah as it threatens an attack,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said. “Everyone must act now to prevent this. Failure to prevent the massacre will be an indelible stain on Int'l Cmyt (the international community). Too many massacres have been allowed. Enough.”

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