May 14, 2024 | Flash Brief

Nearly Half Million Gazans Evacuate Rafah

May 14, 2024 | Flash Brief

Nearly Half Million Gazans Evacuate Rafah

Latest Developments

Approximately 450,000 Gazans have evacuated Rafah, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced on May 14. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) asked civilians to relocate to an expanded humanitarian area along the Mediterranean coast — from al-Mawasi to Deir al-Balah — for their safety ahead of a ground operation to destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions in the southernmost Gazan city. The number marks an increase from May 13 reports that 360,000 had departed Rafah.

While the evacuation continues, Israeli forces continued their measured advance through the city after entering eastern Rafah last week. Reuters reported on May 14 that residents saw Israeli tanks west of Salahuddin Road, pushing into the city’s more densely populated areas.

Expert Analysis

“The administration has claimed for weeks it has never seen a plan from Israel that would enable the safe evacuation of civilians from Rafah prior to a major military operation. The plan it’s supposedly never seen appears to be unfolding nonetheless.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“Israel’s decision to urge civilians to evacuate Rafah is a noble act, yet it creates a complex situation, as it provides an opportunity for Hamas and other terrorist groups to conceal themselves within the fleeing population. Moreover, the slow evacuation affords terrorist groups the opportunity to fortify their positions and prepare for a likely full-scale invasion of the city.” — Joe Truzman, Senior Research Analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal 

Israel Believes Rafah Operation Necessary to Defeat Hamas

The United Nations believes that around 1.3 million Gazans are in Rafah, many of whom had arrived there to escape fighting in other areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously said that an operation in Rafah was unavoidable, as Hamas’s last four intact battalions are based in the city. The IDF also believes that Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 are located in Rafah. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin before the operation commenced that “military action is required” in Rafah in order to achieve “the goals of the war — the destruction of Hamas as a military and governing authority, and the return of 132 hostages.”

Israel Builds Humanitarian Infrastructure

Israel has been building humanitarian infrastructure in designated parts of Gaza in anticipation of evacuating civilians. Satellite images from late April showed a new compound of tents under construction near Khan Younis. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 22 that Israel was coordinating closely with the United States, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates to expand humanitarian areas with shelter and medical facilities. In February, Israel reportedly presented a plan to officials in Cairo that detailed 15 separate humanitarian camps, each with 25,000 shelters.

On May 11, Israel announced that it had opened an eighth field hospital in Gaza, located in the central city of Deir al-Balah — the northernmost end of its designated humanitarian zone. Reuters reported on May 14 that the International Red Cross opened another field hospital in southern Gaza.

Palestinian Authority Rejects Israeli Offer to Control Rafah Border Crossing,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Establishes Eighth Field Hospital in Gaza,” FDD Flash Brief

IDF Takes Control of Gaza Side of Rafah Crossing,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Calls on Civilians to Evacuate Rafah,” FDD Flash Brief

Issues:

Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy