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Middle East

Israel Begins Evacuating Part of Rafah

Israel told Palestinians to evacuate parts of Rafah on Monday in what appeared to be preparation for a long-threatened assault on Hamas holdouts in the southern Gaza Strip city where more than a million war-displaced people have been sheltering.

Instructed by Arabic text messages, telephone calls, and flyers to move to what the Israeli military called an “expanded humanitarian zone” 20 km (7 miles) away, some Palestinian families lumbered out under chilly spring rain, witnesses said.

A senior official of Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that governs Gaza, told Reuters the evacuation order was a “dangerous escalation that will have consequences”.

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“The US administration, alongside the occupation, bears responsibility for this terrorism,” the official, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Reuters, referring to Israel’s alliance with Washington.

Israel’s military said it had begun encouraging residents of Rafah to evacuate in a “limited scope” operation. It gave no specific reasons, nor did it say if any offensive action might follow.

An Israeli offensive in Rafah “would be devastating for 1.4 million people” sheltering there, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said on X, adding it would keep a presence in Rafah as long as possible to provide aid.

Seven months into its war against Hamas, Israel has been threatening to launch incursions in Rafah, which it says harbors thousands of Hamas fighters and potentially dozens of hostages. Victory is impossible without taking Rafah, it says.

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