The ongoing conflict in Gaza has resulted in the displacement of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom have sought refuge in the city of Rafah. The Islamic extremist movement Hamas has warned that Israel’s ground offensive on Rafah could lead to dire consequences, with tens of thousands of people potentially being killed or injured in the city.
Witnesses reported bombings in the surrounding areas of Rafah, which is home to 1.3 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s total population. The vast majority of these Palestinians are refugees who fled the Israeli offensive in other areas of the Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the military to draw up a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah, following warnings from the United States, European Union and UN about a potential humanitarian disaster if civilians are forced to evacuate without a safe place to go.
The conflict began when Islamist militants killed more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 250 in southern Israel. In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” Hamas and launched a relentless campaign of bombings and ground operations against Gaza, resulting in the deaths of mostly women, children and adolescents.
On the diplomatic front, a “new round of negotiations” has begun in Cairo aimed at gaining greater access to humanitarian aid to Gaza and exchanging hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The war in Gaza has also exacerbated tensions with other countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen where Iran-backed groups have launched attacks on behalf of Hamas prompting retaliation from Israel and its allies.