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Israel moves to expand humanitarian zones ahead of Rafah incursion

Evacuation of civilians could occur in the coming days

Displaced Palestinians pitch their tents next to the Egyptian border with the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 8, 2024. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel has reportedly obtained tens of thousands of tents for the construction of humanitarian zones to accommodate evacuees from the town of Rafah as it prepares to enter the remaining Hamas stronghold. 

A senior defense official told Reuters on Wednesday the IDF has conducted all necessary preparations for a Rafah operation and is only awaiting government approval. 

The southern town of Rafah, located in Gaza near the border with Egypt, has seen its population increase of about 1 million people following the start of the IDF ground campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Israel had previously declared Rafah a safe zone, however, after intelligence indicated that many Hamas leaders and fighters fled to the enclave, Israel began to consider operating in the town. 

Israel agreed with the U.S. government to evacuate civilians from Rafah before conducting a ground operation there. 

Hamas senior officials Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Sinwar and Mohammed Deif are believed to be hiding in the enclave. At the same time, Israel believes that many of the surviving hostages are also in Rafah.

While the Biden administration opposes the IDF's plan to enter Rafah on humanitarian grounds, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel must enter Rafah to achieve its goals in the fight against Hamas. 

According to the New York Times, an IDF official said that an Israeli-designated “humanitarian zone” along the coast north of Rafah could be expanded to accommodate more civilians. 

Satellite imagery from Planet Labs and Maxar showed the assembly of new tents in the area near Khan Younis over the past two weeks. Additional images appeared to show the construction of a fortified buffer zone on the Egyptian side of the border, despite Egypt’s insistence that it would not allow any Palestinians to cross into its territory. 

Israeli officials told Reuters that Israel is not constructing the tent compounds, even though it had purchased the tents. The official did not say who is constructing the compounds, but said it requires "a joint effort and significant cooperation with the various international organizations.” 

An Egyptian official told The Telegraph that Israel plans to establish tents, medical facilities, and food distribution centers, and will also coordinate with the U.S., Egypt, and other regional countries to evacuate refugees from Rafah.

On Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel to discuss operations in Rafah. 

IDF Brig.-Gen. Itzik Cohen, commander of the 162nd Division operating in Gaza, told the KAN news outlet that the Israeli military is preparing to enter Rafah – and that Hamas should be prepared to surrender. 

“Hamas was hit hard in the northern sector. It was also hit hard in the center of the Strip. And soon it will be hit hard in Rafah,” Cohen said. “Hamas should know that when the IDF goes into Rafah, it would do best to raise its hands in surrender.” 

An Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal that the IDF would conduct a targeted series of operations in Rafah, unlike the operations in Khan Younis and Gaza City, due to the “complex” situation. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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