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Israel orders new 'evacuations' in Rafah as military action expected

Air strikes hit Gaza city as Israeli army says more than 300,000 people have left since Monday
Palestinians gather their belongings as they flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on 11 May 2024 (AFP)

Israeli forces gave new orders for people to leave areas in Rafah on Saturday as it prepared to expand its military operation in the city despite warnings from the international community.

Around 300,000 people have left eastern Rafah in the south of Gaza for a "humanitarian area in Al-Mawasai", following orders on Monday to leave, according to an Israeli military statement.

Israeli forces issued the order and captured the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as it prepared for a ground invasion of the city, while on Saturday it gave orders for more departures in eastern Rafah and northern Gaza.

In a post on X, Avichay Adraee, the Israeli military's Arabic-language spokesperson, called on residents to  evacuate parts of al-Jnaina, Khirbet al-Adas and al-Adari neighbourhoods, and Shaboura camp and to "immediately head to the shelters west of Gaza City".

He said that people in these areas were in a "dangerous combat zone ... [T]herefore everyone who is in those areas exposes themselves and their families to danger".

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On Friday, the UN said more than 100,000 Palestinians had evacuated Rafah this week.

The Palestinian health ministry has reported at least 34,971 Palestinians killed and 78,641 others wounded since Israel's war on Gaza began in October.

Al Jazeera reported that the bodies of at least 30 Palestinians who were killed in overnight Israeli attacks on their homes in Gaza were being taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. The victims reportedly included the elderly, women and children.

Seven Palestinians were also killed and others injured in Israeli air strikes northwest of Rafah, according to Wafa news agency. According to an agency correspondent, the Israeli strikes had targeted a house in the Areeba area.

He said the victims were taken to the Kuwaiti Speciality Hospital in Rafah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he would push on with his plans to invade Rafah in order to uproot Hamas, which was responsible for an attack in Israel on 7 October that left 1,170 people dead and saw hundreds of captured Israelis and others taken to Gaza.

There are also an estimated 10,000 Palestinians buried under the rubble of buildings flattened by Israeli bombing, according to the Palestinian civil defence.

'Epic humanitarian disaster'

A number of international actors have warned Israel against the planned invasion of Rafah, which has already become a haven for Palestinians fleeing Israeli attacks in the rest of the enclave.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that Gaza risked an "epic humanitarian disaster" if Israel launched a full-scale ground operation. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that the World Food Programme and UN aid agency Unrwa were set to run out of food for distribution in southern Gaza "by tomorrow" due to the continued closure of border crossings by Israeli forces.

In a video statement posted on X, OCHA chief Georgios Petropoulos warned that the "humanitarian situation in Gaza is in a downward spiral" and urged for the "immediate entry of aid and fuel".

The French foreign ministry also called on Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah and to reopen the border crossing to allow the passage of aid into Gaza.

In a statement posted on X, the ministry condemned the Israeli attack on Gaza's southernmost city, warning it could cause "a catastrophic situation for the civilian population of Gaza".

The ministry urged Israel to return to negotiations, "the only possible path to lead to the immediate release of hostages and obtain a lasting ceasefire".

In the US, Israel's biggest backer, mounting pressure domestically and internationally led President Joe Biden, for the first time, to raise the possibility of withholding military aid from Israel, which totals $3bn annually.

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The United Nations General Assembly on Friday voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution that would expand the membership rights of Palestine, putting the country on a path towards full membership in the UN, a major step up from its current status as an observer state without voting rights.

The resolution passed with 143 votes in favour, nine abstentions, and 25 votes against. The US and Israel voted against the resolution.

Late on Friday and after a delay of several days, the US State Department released its highly anticipated report on whether Israel was using American weapons in violation of international law in Gaza.

The report found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israel did use American-supplied weapons in violation of international law.

However, given the lack of evidence and the lack of a US government presence on the ground in Gaza, the report could not make any definitive conclusions.

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