Family evacuates Rafah in tricycle.

A man, woman, and children ride in the back of a tricycle loaded with belongings and other items as they flee bound for Khan Yunis, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2024.

(Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images)

In 'Grave Breach' of International Law, Israel Orders More Evacuations in Rafah

"People have stayed in Rafah thinking it's safe and hoping that global pressure would stop an invasion. But now we are abandoned by the world and everyone feels betrayed and let down," one aid worker said.

The Israel Defense Forces ordered additional evacuations in central Rafah on Saturday, signalling that Israel will continue with an invasion of the southern Gaza city that has been the last refuge for more than 1.4 million Palestinians displaced since the country began its devastating war on Gaza in October.

The new evacuations follow orders issued Monday for residents and refugees to leave eastern Rafah. Humanitarian agencies said that approximately 110,000 people had evacuated from Rafah before Saturday and that another 40,000 joined them following the most recent orders, according toThe Associated Press.

"We are forcibly leaving after the occupation army threatened us, through recorded calls and in a post published on Facebook. We are leaving because of fear and coercion," Rafah resident Faten Lafi toldAl Jazeera. "We are leaving for the unknown and there are no safe areas at all. All the areas left are unsafe."

"Many people in Gaza are already suffering from famine, but now we are entering a new period of unprecedented hardship."

International humanitarian organizations have warned that an invasion of Rafah would be catastrophic for civilians and aid operations and that there is no credible way to safely evacuate the city.

"The Israeli army does not have a safe area in Gaza. They target everything," Abu Yusuf al-Deiri, who is now in Rafah after fleeing Gaza City, told AP.

The U.S. has said it opposes a Rafah invasion that does not include a workable plan to protect civilians, and President Joe Biden has threatened to withhold certain weapons from Israel if it moves forward with a full-scale Rafah attack, though critics have argued that Israel has made enough incursions into the city to justify cutting off arms now.

"With no guarantee of safety, proper accommodations, or return once hostilities end, this is a grave breach of international humanitarian law, not an orderly evacuation as Israel portrays it," said Itay Epshtain, a senior humanitarian law and policy consultant who works as special adviser to the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Association of International Development Agencies, on social media.

The United Nations Children's Fund has further warned that the "humanitarian area" where Israel is now directing Rafah evacuees—a coastal enclave called Al-Mawasi—is not safe because it does not have adequate supplies and because it has been subjected to air strikes in the past.

"We don't know what we will do," 54-year-old Muhammad Qahman, who arrived in Rafah in January toldThe Guardian. "We are now preparing our things to go to the area designated by the Israeli army, which is supposed to be safe and a humanitarian area, but this is just a lie," Qahman added, referring to Al-Mawasi.

The charity Islamic Relief published a statement in response to the new evacuation orders, which included testimony from a staff member.

"I feel like this is the end," the staff worker said. "It feels like we will all be either trapped and killed in Gaza, or we will all be forced out. People have stayed in Rafah thinking it's safe and hoping that global pressure would stop an invasion. But now we are abandoned by the world and everyone feels betrayed and let down."

The worker added that the humanitarian situation in Gaza had become even more difficult since Israel seized the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, making it impossible for supplies to get in.

"Bakeries have stopped working because they don't have fuel, so we don't have bread. We don't have any water supply as that also depends on fuel deliveries, so yesterday we had to pay $50 just to refill our tank. Cars have stopped, so people coming from Rafah to the Middle Area are either walking or packed into vans carrying hundreds of people," they continued. "Many people in Gaza are already suffering from famine, but now we are entering a new period of unprecedented hardship."

Georgios Petropoulos, who works with the U.N. humanitarian agency in Rafah, explained to AP that aid organizations were struggling to support the latest round of displaced Gazans.

"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," Petropoulos said.

The latest evacuations could also further destabilize Rafah's remaining healthcare infrastructure.

Hospital director Saheb al-Hams said the latest order "threatened" Kuwaiti Specialty Hospital.

"There is no other place for patients and injured people to go to but this hospital," al-Hams told reporters, calling for "immediate international protection."

In addition to the Rafah evacuation orders, the IDF also told "all residents and displaced people" to leave parts of Gaza City, Jabaliya, Zeitoun, and Beit Lahiya in the north of Gaza as it prepares to intensify fighting there.

"It's raining terror again in Jabaliya Refugee Camp and north of Gaza!" British Palestinian activist Shahd Abusalama wrote on social media Saturday. "I heard the bombs falling all around my surviving family everyone was screaming! They're gasping to breathe! My family there survived through way too much. They may not survive this one."

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