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New mass displacement in Gaza on Nakba anniversary

An escalating Israeli military assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, has displaced nearly 450,000 people in the past week, according to the UN. Israeli troops are advancing into eastern Rafah and pushing toward the centre of the city, forcing the closure of the two main border crossings used to bring humanitarian assistance into the enclave.  

The new wave of displacement in Gaza comes as Palestinians mark the 76th anniversary, on 15 May, of the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), which refers to the mass displacement of around 700,000 Palestinians that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. 

For months, Rafah has been the last refuge in Gaza for around 1.4 million Palestinians, about 60% of the enclave’s population. The majority of people sheltering in the city had already been displaced from other parts of Gaza by Israel’s more than seven-month-long military campaign. 

Israel issued evacuation orders for parts of eastern Rafah on 6 May and then expanded the evacuation zone on 11 May, and the places Israel has told people to go to are largely sand dunes and rubble. 

Israel has launched its assault on Rafah despite months of warnings from international leaders and aid agencies that an Israeli invasion of Rafah will have a catastrophic impact on the already dire humanitarian situation throughout Gaza. 

The city is the last major population centre in Gaza that had not been nearly entirely destroyed by Israeli bombardment and ground assaults. Rafah is also the base of operations for UN agencies and aid organisations, whose response to the staggering level of need has already been hobbled by multiple Israeli-imposed barriers

Several aid organisations have suspended their activities as their staff members have been forced to flee. Aid agencies and Gaza’s already battered hospital system are also running low on fuel, which is threatening to grind their operations to a halt.  

The amount of aid entering the enclave via two recently opened crossing points from Israel will likely do little to mitigate the effects of the Israeli assault on Rafah. After delays, the US military project to bring aid to Gaza by sea is supposed to begin functioning in the coming days. However, major questions about the route remain. For more on the issues with the controversial project, read our recent article: EXCLUSIVE: Israeli military demolished homes to make way for US Gaza aid pier

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