Concerns Arise Over Potential Invasion of Rafah

Potential Israeli Invasion and Evacuation Plans

  • On February 12, Israel conducted air raids on 14 houses and three mosques in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, according to the Hamas government.
    • During the operation, Israeli forces entered a house, exchanged gunfire with Hamas, and freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70.
    • 74 Palestinians were killed as a result of the strikes.
  • While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the military to prepare a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah ahead of a ground invasion, the details of the proposal are still developing.
    • The prospect of an evacuation plan has been widely criticized as “the only ‘safe zone’ left in Gaza [is] a tiny strip of land to the west of Rafah and the crossing into Egypt closed.”
  • Reporting from Tuesday indicated that one of the several plans under discussion “envisions 15 sites containing 25,000 tents each across Gaza, running from the southern edge of Gaza City down to the Al Mawasi area north of Rafah.” The plan was presented to Egypt in recent days.
    • Israel expects that this plan would be funded by its U.S. and Arab partners.

Why is Rafah Important? 

  • About 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, a city at the southern point of Gaza along the Egyptian border and the last Israeli-designated safe zone
    • Rafah’s pre-war population was roughly 280,000. Because much of northern Gaza has been made uninhabitable, over one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced to the south. 
    • Families seeking safety in Rafah lack access to healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. Many “were struggling to survive prior to the strikes, with more than half a million people suffering in the catastrophic food crisis.”
  • Netanyahu has stated Israel’s intention to attack four Hamas battalions in Rafah through a ground offensive. He has maintained that an assault on Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas, a longtime objective that he has now described as “within reach.” 
  • The United States and other allies have expressed opposition to an invasion of Rafah.
    • The United Nations asserted that an attack on Rafah could endanger the lives of about 600,000 children and collapse the struggling humanitarian aid system. 

Prospect of a Ceasefire

  • On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that Washington is pushing for a six-week pause in fighting to serve as a building block to a longer ceasefire. 
  • On Tuesday, ceasefire talks resumed in Cairo. CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Egyptian intelligence officials participated. 
    • A deal proposing the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a temporary truce remains up for discussion. 
  • The developing situation in Rafah has complicated ceasefire negotiations. 
    • On Sunday, Hamas warned that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah could derail ceasefire talks and the exchange of hostages and prisoners.
    • This warning comes after Hamas gave a “positive” response to a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages on Friday.
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