Why Is the City of Rafah So Important to Israel?

There are hundreds of thousands of refugees from other parts of the Gaza Strip in the overpopulated city and probably more than half a milion children, and the situation in which these people find themselves is already catastrophic

by Sededin Dedovic
Why Is the City of Rafah So Important to Israel?
© Amir Levy / Getty Images

Since the beginning of February, there has been discussion in Israel about a possible military offensive on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Now things are becoming more concrete. The Israeli army has called on the population of the eastern part of Rafah to leave the city.

Approximately 100,000 people are affected. According to the Israeli army, this is allegedly a "limited action" aimed at breaking up Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the West and some Arab countries. Additionally, it is assumed that there are also some Israelis in the city whom Hamas holds as hostages, as reported by DeutscheWelle.

Civilians are supposed to relocate to the Al Mavasi area, about 20 kilometers from Rafah, closer to the Mediterranean coast. There is an "expanded humanitarian area" with field hospitals, tents, and food. The army further stated that the population is being informed through leaflets, news, calls, and Arab media.

In April, it was reported that there were around 40,000 evacuation tents. According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel intends to conduct a ground offensive on Rafah in multiple phases, and the evacuation could take two to three weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously mentioned "about six weeks of continuous fighting" regarding this operation. Prior negotiations through intermediaries with Hamas regarding a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners have failed.

Therefore, military action is now deemed necessary and there is no alternative, said Israeli Defense Minister Joav Galant, as reported by news agencies. Israeli allies, such as the United States, warn Israel to abandon the offensive.

The densely populated city also houses hundreds of thousands of refugees from other parts of the Gaza Strip, and their current situation is already catastrophic. According to the United Nations, more than 80% of the population of the Gaza Strip is estimated to be displaced.

Out of around 2.3 million residents, up to 1.4 million sought refuge in Rafah after the Israeli army took control of the northern part of the Strip. Rafah is currently the most populated city in the Gaza Strip.

Smoke rise over the southern part of the Gaza Strip after an Israeli bombardment, as seen from a position on the Israeli side of© Amir Levy / Getty Images

Refugee camps around Rafah are full.

There is a shortage of food, medicine, and drinking water. "The humanitarian situation in Gaza is incredibly dire," said a representative of the U.S. development agency USAID. About a quarter of the population in the southern Gaza Strip is in a dire situation regarding food, and children are particularly affected.

James Elder, spokesperson for the UN children's aid organization UNICEF, recently warned in the British newspaper The Guardian of possible consequences. "Rafah could implode," he said regarding the potential offensive. "The consequences would be catastrophic because Rafah is a city of children." Around 600,000 girls and boys have sought refuge there.

There is no safe place for them to flee. Additionally, Rafah is a major delivery point for humanitarian aid. Israel estimates that four Hamas brigades out of the former 24 are currently hiding in Rafah or beneath the city. Therefore, it considers it crucial to break them up in order to finally destroy Hamas.

After more than seven months of war with Israel, Hamas's fighting force has weakened. However, the terrorist organization has not been militarily defeated. While the number of rocket attacks on Israel has significantly decreased, Hamas still has a large number of rockets and drones.

It is unclear how the population would be supplied in the event of a ground offensive on Rafah, considering they are already in a difficult position. While allies warn Israel of a possible catastrophe, an Israeli army spokesperson states that the supply of humanitarian aid to the population will continue uninterrupted during the action.

According to him, this can be achieved through various routes in the coastal area, such as via the Israeli port of Ashdod, which is about 30 kilometers north of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Kerem Shalom border crossing was temporarily closed for humanitarian transports on Sunday after a Hamas attack.

The militant Islamist Hamas fired rockets at this crossing, killing four Israeli soldiers. The United States had criticized plans for a ground offensive on Rafah months ago, and the current limited attacks on some parts of the city are not considered the start of a major ground offensive.

The German Foreign Ministry has also warned of a possible "looming humanitarian catastrophe." Neighboring Egypt fears that numerous refugees from Rafah will come to the Egyptian Sinai. According to the Egyptian TV channel Al Kahera, Hamas's attack on the Israeli Kerem Shalom border crossing has led negotiations into a deadlock.

The television channel cites a high unnamed source, and according to these reports, negotiators will try to prevent escalation, DW reports.