Israel to attack Rafah, a raid on two houses has already killed 16 people. The army's appeal: “Residents leave the city”


By John

The Israeli armed forces launch, through “posters, SMS messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic”, the appeal to the citizens of Rafah to move from the eastern part of the city to the “expanded humanitarian area of ​​Al-Mawasi”. This is what we read on the social profiles of the IDF, in a message which reiterates that the army “will continue to pursue Hamas everywhere in Gaza until all the hostages they are holding prisoners are they will have returned home.”

It seems like a sign that the Israeli attack on the southern city of the Strip, accused of hosting the Hamas headquarters, is about to begin. Meanwhile, an Israeli raid on two houses in Rafah has already killed 16 people. Rescuers reported nine deaths in the “Al Attar family” and another seven in the “Keshta family”. A hospital source confirmed the toll of the attacks, specifying that they occurred “in the Yebna refugee camp in Rafah and near Al Salam”.

The evacuation of Rafah started this morning by the Israeli army it is a “limited scope operation”: An IDF spokesperson said this in a press briefing. “This morning … we began a limited operation to temporarily evacuate residents in the eastern part of Rafah,” he said. “This is a limited operation.”

Rafah, the broken city on the brink of catastrophe

Rafah, the city on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, has been on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe for weeks now. Negotiations for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel are at a standstill, the United Nations has warned of the consequences of military intervention, 1.5 million civilians are trapped on the border with Egypt.

Rafah lies on an area of ​​just 64 square kilometers where around 300 thousand people lived before 7 October. An already overpopulated area, which with the explosion of the conflict between Israel and Hamas saw its population increase fivefold due to civilians fleeing from northern Gaza. One of the most densely populated areas in the world, which has been targeted by Israeli raids in recent weeks. For days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that a ground operation in Rafah “is only a matter of time”. And that moment seems to be imminent. This is the last chapter in the history of a city that has been inhabited for more than 3 thousand years.

In ancient Egyptian times the area was famous for being a thriving oasis that connected Gaza with Sinai. Important and strategic to the point of being the scene of the battle of Raphia (Latin name of the city) in 217 BC. In the chronicles of the time there is talk of 150 thousand soldiers and 200 elephants in a fight between the Seleucid empire and the Ptolemaic kingdom. In 635 AD, after years spent under the control of the Byzantine Empire, the army of the Rashidun arrived in Rafah, the 'companions' of the prophet Muhammad who fought and converted the population to Islam.

Islam itself will shape the following centuries of the life of Rafah, which will pass into the hands of the Muslim dynasties of the Umayyads and Abbasids and find stability under Ottoman rule, returning to be a resting point for camels, merchants and pilgrims traveling to Mecca. The city was home to a Jewish community for centuries, merchants who helped make trade flourish, before moving to nearby Ashkelon, Israel.

The turning point came with the division of the city in two decided in 1906. The Ottoman Empire was now on the verge of collapse and a line split Rafah in two, half of which ended up under the British colony of Egypt, while the other half remained to Ottoman Palestine. The Arab revolts inspired by TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, marked the end of Ottoman control in the Middle East, and by 1917 Rafah came entirely under British control.

The reunification of the city lasted just over 30 years. In fact, in 1948 they marked the creation of the state of Israel and the beginning of the 'Nakba', remembered by the Palestinians as the 'catastrophe'. Tens of thousands of families are forced to move towards the Gaza Strip, the latter comes under Egyptian control and is once again divided by the line drawn in 1906. The Rafah refugee camp was founded in 1949, (today one of the most densely populated in the world), the result of the exodus of the many Palestinians, forced to abandon their lands during the Nakba of the previous year.

In 1967 Israel won the war against the Arab countries and occupied Gaza and Sinai. The line that divides the city disappears for 15 years, in 1979 Israel and Egypt sign a peace treaty, in 1982 the Israelis abandon Sinai and the city is once again divided by the 1906 border. This time the line splits a center in two population has grown dramatically and the population has to decide whether to live on the Egyptian side or remain in Gaza under Israeli control. Also in 1982, the Rafah crossing was opened, a connection between Egypt and Gaza, which in 1994 was placed under the joint control of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The agreement held for 7 years and collapsed with the second intifada of 2001, when Israel destroyed the Yasser Arafat airport, located near Rafah, and regained full control of the crossing. This time too, however, the management of the crossing appears to be as strategic as it is complicated; in 2005 the Israeli government decided to withdraw its settlers from Gaza and in 2007 Hamas took control of the Strip together with Egypt. A development, the latest in a long series, which has made Rafah the only passage to Gaza not directly controlled by Israel.

However, the fame of the Rafah crossing is largely due to what happens underground, in the tunnels through which weapons and rockets destined for the Palestinian resistance have passed for years.. However, Egypt has declared war on the tunnel over the years. Cairo, following the treaty signed in 1979 with Israel, submerged the tunnels with sea water, filled them with earth and blocked them with concrete walls. With the rise to power of Egyptian President Abdelfettah Al Sisi, the Egyptian government began the destruction of Rafah. Since then, 685 hectares of farmland have been razed, at least 800 homes and 78,000 people are now forced into a buffer zone between Sinai and Rafah. Al Sisi has announced the construction of a 'new city'.

The part of Rafah's population that remained living on the Palestinian side fared no better. Before the drama of the last few days, the city was set on fire by a feud between Hamas and another Palestinian group in 2009. However, there was no shortage of Israeli bombings, which in 2009, 2012 and 2014 hit Gaza without sparing Rafah and caused numerous civilian casualties. The city has also come under bombs in the ongoing conflict, despite having been declared a “safe zone”.

According to data provided by the United Nations, there are currently around 133 thousand Palestinians regularly registered in the Rafah refugee camp, which covers an area of ​​just 1.2 square kilometres. However, the number has grown exponentially in recent months, making the area one of the most densely populated in the world. In Rafah the United Nations runs 18 schools and 2 clinics.
A population density that makes the civilian population extremely vulnerable; at the same time, the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive would pave the way for a humanitarian crisis of enormous dimensions and force more than a million people into an impossible and desperate flight towards the Sinai.