Palestinians flee Rafah as Israeli assault intensifies

Palestinians flee Rafah as Israeli assault intensifies


Hundreds braved roads in Rafah in south Gaza Tuesday as they fled Israel's expanding ground assault.

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RAFAH (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Hundreds braved roads in Rafah in south Gaza Tuesday as they fled Israel's expanding ground assault, with increased shelling, tanks in the city centre, and forces positioned on higher ground.

"We are panicking and afraid," 40-year-old Ihab Zorob of west Rafah told AFP.

"Our children and wives haven't stopped crying. The bombing last night and throughout the morning has been intense and severe," he said.

"Seeing people flee has made us more afraid, so we've decided to seek shelter in Al-Mawasi (on the coast). Hopefully we'll find space there."

Rafah city on the Palestinian territory's southern border with Egypt has been under Israeli ground assault since early May.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, said that one million civilians had fled Rafah since the ground attack went ahead despite a chorus of international warnings.

On Tuesday, AFP reporters saw people carry what belongings they could as they fled western Rafah's Tal al-Sultan, where a strike on Sunday that Israel said targeted Hamas killed 45 people, according to Palestinian officials.

The more fortunate transported piles of mattresses and blankets and dozens of children on the back of trucks, while others carried what they could in rubbish bags, or walked with rolled up mattresses on their heads.

In the nearby southern city of Khan Yunis, AFP reporters saw piles of pillows, mattresses and bags of clothes covering a sandy area where people fleeing Rafah had settled.

Yasser Adwan, a 22-year-old resident of west Rafah, told AFP that "Israeli drones targeted anyone moving or walking in the streets of Rafah".

He reported several casualties "left lying in the street" because civil defence teams could not retrieve them for fear of being targeted themselves.


The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said in a statement that Israeli shelling in and around health facilities in the governorate has left just one still operational.

It said that only Tal Al-Sultan Maternity Hospital was still "struggling to continue providing service to patients in the Rafah Governorate".

Several witnesses reported Israeli tanks taking up position on high ground at Tal Zorob near the border with Egypt.

"Israeli forces are stationed ... on a hill called Tal Zorob, the highest hill in Rafah," Mohammad al-Mughayyir, an official with Gaza's civil defence agency, told AFP.

Israel's military said in a statement its forces had carried out operations on the Philadelphi Corridor, a strip of land along the Egyptian border and near Tal Zorob, on Monday night.

It said they were "conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area".

A statement from Mughayyir reported difficulties faced by ambulance crews reaching "besieged houses and evacuating the injured" in the nearby Zorob Square.

He said this was mainly because of Israeli "quadcopter drones" that he said had targeted his staff on three occasions.

Mughayyir said his teams were responding to calls from northern and western Rafah, but had been unable to reach "eastern and southern areas".


A Gaza security source told AFP Tuesday at midday that Israeli tanks were now also "in central and southwest Rafah".

Yasser Adwan in west Rafah told AFP tanks had also taken up position "on the Al-Awda roundabout in the centre of the city of Rafah".

Rafah resident Fatima al-Nams, 65, told AFP that "throughout the night, the bombing didn't stop, with air and artillery fire and vehicles advancing to the west" of the city.

"We will evacuate like the other citizens now," added Nams, who as a resident of the last area in the Gaza Strip to be attacked by ground troops had not yet been displaced, unlike most people in the territory.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, reported Tuesday that "around one million people" fled Rafah over the past three weeks.

When Israeli forces told those in the north to evacuate, before conducting operations in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Yunis, hundreds of thousands fled south to Rafah.

The governorate's population swelled to 1.4 million as a result, UNRWA said, out of Gaza's total population of 2.4 million.

The war in Gaza began after Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.