large truck in traffic

A truck is used to evacuate the International Medical Corps American field hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 2, 2024.

(Photo: Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

Conditions ‘Unspeakable’ as Israeli Onslaught Forces Over 1 Million to Flee Rafah

"Public health concerns are beyond crisis levels" in the areas where Palestinians have been forced to shelter, and "the sounds, the smells, the everyday life, are horrific and apocalyptic," a U.N. official said.

More than 1 million Palestinians have fled Rafah as the city comes under a continued Israeli assault, forcing many to shelter in badly damaged buildings in the nearby city of Khan Younis, according to the United Nations.

The assault on Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, has left the displaced in "unspeakable" conditions, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on social media. Approximately 1.7 million displaced people are now in Khan Younis and "Gaza Middle Areas," according to UNRWA.

Khan Younis, which saw sustained fighting earlier in the war, still does not appear to be a safe zone: Israeli military vehicles entered the city in recent hours after advancing to two towns just east of Khan Younis with "heavy gunfire and artillery shelling," Al Jazeerareported.

Since early May, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has issued evacuation orders for parts of Rafah, telling people to go to an "expanded humanitarian zone" in Al-Mawasi, located roughly 12 miles from the city.

Israeli forces subsequently launched attacks on designated safe zones, including in Al-Mawasi. Two strikes killed 45 and 21 people last week, mostly women and children. The first of the attacks, known as the "tent massacre," was carried out with U.S. weapons, later analysis showed.

Many of the people fleeing Rafah are having to move for at least the second time during the war. Roughly 1 million Palestinians who'd been displaced elsewhere had gone to Rafah for refuge earlier in the war. They began to leave Rafah nearly four weeks ago as Israeli started its assault on the city. Before the war, Rafah's population was about 275,000, but the governorate reached a population of 1.4 million by February as Israel ordered Palestianians to move there from northern Gaza. This meant squeezing more than half of Gaza's prewar population of 2.3 million into one governorate, NPRreported.

More than 18,500 pregnant women have been forced to leave Rafah, while about 10,000 pregnant women remain in the city in "desperate conditions," the U.N. reported.

"They're exhausted, traumatized, dehydrated, and malnourished," the U.N. Population Fund wrote on social media of pregnant women dealing with "Israel's terrifying military operation in Rafah."

"Pregnant women in Gaza are living in an unrelenting nightmare," the agency added.

After successive operations last month, Israel now controls the entire Gaza-Egypt border. Humanitarian corridors have shut down, with many agencies and aid groups pausing operations in Rafah due to lack of supplies and security concerns.

"We are living and working precariously in the south," Matthew Hollingsworth said, World Food Program (WFP) country director in Palestine, said late last week, the U.N. reported. The areas where the displaced have been forced to shelter are nightmarish, he said.

"Public health concerns are beyond crisis levels" and "the sounds, the smells, the everyday life, are horrific and apocalyptic," Hollingsworth added.

More than half of the structures in the Gaza Strip have been damaged, destroyed, or possibly destroyed during the eight-month Israeli assault, the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) concluded, in findings released Monday.

The mass displacement from Rafah continued as the Biden administration sought to arrange a cease-fire after after being pressured for months to end its military support for Israel’s onslaught. President Joe Biden called for an end to the war on Friday and backed a roadmap to a deal, which drew praise from Palestine defenders—the Council on American-Islamic Relations called it "long overdue" and a "positive step"—as well as criticism that it did not address the root causes of the conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the deal would not stop the war, which could not end until "total victory" had been achieved, according toIsraeli National News.

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