The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Islamic extremist movement Hamas has escalated to new heights with a potential for devastating consequences. Rafah, the last refuge for Palestinians displaced by the war in Gaza, is at risk of becoming a battleground as Israel prepares for a ground offensive. Witnesses reported bombings in the surrounding areas of Rafah, and Hamas warned of severe consequences if an Israeli ground offensive is launched, including the killing or injury of tens of thousands of people.
The city is home to 1.3 million Palestinians, more than half of the total population of Gaza, and most of them are refugees who fled Israeli offensive in other areas. The Hamas Health Ministry reported intense fighting at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis and Al Amal hospital in Rafah, which was raided by Israeli forces. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the military to draw up a plan for civilians’ evacuation from Rafah. However, there are concerns about a potential humanitarian catastrophe if civilians are forced to evacuate without safe places to go.
The conflict began when Islamist militants killed more than 1,160 people and kidnapped about 250 in southern Israel. In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a relentless campaign of bombing and ground operations against Gaza, resulting mainly in the death of women, children, and adolescents. On the diplomatic front, negotiations began in Cairo with aims to obtain greater access to humanitarian aid for Gaza and exchange hostages held by Hamas with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. However, tensions have also exacerbated with Iranian-backed groups launching attacks on support of Hamas in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Iraq Syria and Yemen prompting retaliation from Israel and its allies.
As tensions continue to rise on all sides