Mass exodus of Gazans from Rafah as IDF operation looms

200,000 Gazans have evacuated Rafah as IDF prepares to enter final Hamas stronghold.

By David Rosenberg, World Israel News

As many as 200,000 Gazans have evacuated Rafah over the past few weeks ahead of a much-anticipated Israeli ground operation in the southern Gaza city, an IDF spokesperson said Thursday.

Rafah, a city which straddles the Egyptian-Gaza border, had some 200,000 residents on the Gaza side of the frontier prior to October 7th, but swelled to nearly 1.5 million following the Hamas invasion of Israel and subsequent IDF military operation.

With the IDF making final preparations for the Rafah operation, the population of the city has fallen sharply, with 150,000-200,000 Gazans evacuating since April 7th.

Most of the evacuees have relocated either the al-Muwasi, a Bedouin enclave adjacent to Gush Katif – the heart of Jewish settlement in Gaza prior to 2005 – central Gaza, or Khan Yunis, another city in southern Gaza, near Rafah.

IDF forces were withdrawn from Khan Yunis earlier this month, following extensive operations in the city, which had once served as the headquarters of Hamas’ top commander in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

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The Israeli military is encouraging Gazans to evacuate Rafah ahead of the impending ground operation, in the hopes of minimizing civilian causalities.

The IDF has built up a stockpile of over 40,000 tents to distribute to Gazans leaving Rafah, with the aim of establishing tent cities away from the area of planned ground incursion.

Rafah, the last Gaza city firmly under Hamas control, is home to four battalions, according to Israeli intelligence, the final operational Hamas battalions out of 24 pre-October 7th.

The Biden operation has reportedly authorized an Israeli operation within the city, after good-faith efforts by Israel to establish a ceasefire and hostage release deal were reportedly rejected by Hamas, Channel 12 News reported.

There are some indications some of Rafah’s remaining population will be housed temporarily in tent cities established in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, despite prior refusal by Cairo to open its frontier to Gazan civilians.

Satellite imagery has revealed that Egypt is setting up a massive tent city in the Sinai, indicating a change in Cairo’s position.