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Israel orders new evacuations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah

More than 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere.

RafahRAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israel ordered new evacuations in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Saturday, forcing tens of thousands more people to move as it prepares to expand its operation and adding that it is also moving into an area in northern Gaza where Hamas has regrouped.

Israel has now evacuated the eastern third of Rafah, pushing the operation to the edges of the heavily populated central area, although Israel’s move into the city has so far been short of the full-scale invasion that it planned.

The order comes in the face of heavy international opposition and criticism. US President Joe Biden has already said he will not provide offensive weapons to Israel for Rafah, and on Friday the US said there was “reasonable” evidence that Israel had breached international law protecting civilians in the way it conducted its war against Hamas — the strongest statement that the Biden administration has yet made on the matter.

The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israeli assault on Rafah, which borders Egypt near the main aid entry points, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous surge in civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere. Considered the last refuge in the strip, the evacuations are forcing people to return north where areas are devastated by previous Israeli attacks. Aid agencies estimate that 110,000 had done so before Saturday’s order that adds a further 40,000 to that number.

People have been displaced multiple times and there are few places left in the embattled strip to move to. Those fleeing fighting earlier this week erected new tent camps in the city of Khan Younis — which was half destroyed in an earlier Israeli offensive — and the city of Deir al-Balah, straining infrastructure.

Georgios Petropoulos, an official with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Rafah, said humanitarian workers had no supplies to help them set up in new locations. “We simply have no tents, we have no blankets, no bedding, none of the items that you would expect a population on the move to be able to get from the humanitarian system,” he said.

Israeli troops have captured the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, forcing it to shut down. Rafah was the main point of entry for fuel.

The World Food Program has warned that it will run out of food for distribution in southern Gaza by Saturday, Petropoulos said. Aid groups have said fuel will also be depleted soon, forcing hospitals to shut down critical operations and bringing to a halt trucks delivering aid across south and central Gaza.

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