May 18, 2024 | Flash Brief

As Israel Presses Rafah Operation, Civilians Evacuate En Masse

May 18, 2024 | Flash Brief

As Israel Presses Rafah Operation, Civilians Evacuate En Masse

Latest Developments      

Nearly half of Rafah’s civilian population has been evacuated, less than two weeks into the Israeli military’s operation in the strategic south Gaza city, a senior United Nations official said on May 18.    

In a post on X, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) chief Philippe Lazzarini said 800,000 people had left Rafah since May 6, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued orders to civilians to evacuate to humanitarian zones ahead of incremental incursions by Israeli tanks and troops into the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip. Most Palestinians have moved to Khan Younis, the neighboring Gazan city, or other areas of central Gaza, Lazzarini added.    

Israel launched the Rafah military operation, to destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions, after weeks of delay. Washington had voiced misgivings about Israel’s plan to prevent mass-casualties among the hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who congregated in Rafah.

Rafah abuts Gaza’s border with Egypt, which has become increasingly vociferous in its criticism of Israel’s operation. Cairo claims to be primarily concerned about Palestinian civilian suffering and a possible influx of Rafah refugees into the Sinai. However, Israel’s recent discovery of dozens of cross-border smuggling tunnels, connecting Rafah to Egypt, suggests additional and undeclared Egyptian interests.

Expert Analysis

“Just 12 days into Israel’s Rafah sweep, it seems that Western condemnation of Israel was overblown and premature. At this pace — barring more ill-timed and ill-judged interventions by the Biden administration — the city will be clear by month’s end for the IDF to crush Hamas’s last four remaining battalions.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“Despite the critical stakes, Israel has prioritized the safety of Palestinian civilians in Rafah at a time when the United States and many Western allies are attempting to tie the IDF’s hands. The regime in Cairo is playing an even more nefarious role by refusing to allow Palestinians fleeing the fighting to cross the border, while allowing Hamas to smuggle weapons and other military supplies through the extensive tunnel network connecting Rafah with Egypt.” — Ben Cohen, FDD Senior Analyst and Rapid Response Manager

Nearly Half Million Gazans Evacuate Rafah,” FDD Flash Brief

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

Israel Expands Rafah Operation After Hamas Launches Rockets at Beersheba,” FDD Flash Brief

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