Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90     
Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 8, 2024.

As Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing and tanks were seen patrolling the length of the Gaza-Egypt border on Tuesday, residents of Rafah speculated what would happen next.

Some Gazans told TPS-IL that they believe the Israel Defense Forces will remain for a long time at the border crossing and along the border itself to thwart Hamas weapons smuggling through subterranean tunnels leading into the Sinai.

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“In such a case, there is a serious fear that the aid will not arrive, but on the other hand, maybe now that the IDF controls the aid that comes from Rafah, Hamas will not be able to take over,” one Gazan who found refuge in a hospital told TPS-IL.

He added, “In a large part of the displaced persons’ tents in the entire area of southern Gaza, the residents can be heard cursing Yahya Sinwar as the one who brought disaster on them. We are now experiencing the greatest nakba in the history of the Palestinian people.”

Rafah’s Mayor, Ahmed al-Sufi told TPS-IL that around 150,000 residents of the city have fled and worries, “That there is not enough infrastructure and services in the areas of medicine, water, shelter and food in the open areas in Mawasi.” He was referring to a humanitarian zone in southern Gaza’s coastal area where Israel instructed residents of certain Rafah areas to relocate. Other residents were instructed to evacuate to a humanitarian zone in Khan Yunis.

Israel seized control of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after launching an overnight ground operation in parts of the southern Gaza city.

“Following intelligence that indicated that the Rafah Crossing in eastern Rafah was being used for terrorist purposes, IDF troops obtained operational control of the Gazan side of the crossing,” the army said.

Ground troops and fighter jets struck and eliminated Hamas terror targets in the Rafah area including military facilities and underground sites. According to the IDF, 20 Hamas terrorists have been killed and three operational tunnel shafts were found since the operation began.

On Sunday, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from the area of the Rafah border crossing and near an area where displaced Palestinians were sheltering in tents. The barrage targeted the Kerem Shalom border crossing, killing four soldiers. Of all the Gaza border crossings, Kerem Shalom is equipped to handle the most humanitarian aid trucks daily. The crossing has been closed since the attack.

Hamas’s control of the Rafah border crossing allowed it to hijack humanitarian aid deliveries from Egypt.

In recent days, residents of certain Rafah neighborhoods received phone calls, SMS messages, air-dropped flyers, and media broadcasts instructing them to evacuate to expanded humanitarian zones in Khan Yunis and the coastal area of Al-Mawasi. The flyers included maps showing the affected zones, and aid organizations were updated on the evacuation plans.

Also receiving messages to evacuate were displaced Gazans camping in a strip of land along the Gaza-Egypt border known as the Philadelphi corridor. This buffer zone was created to prevent weapons smuggling after Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2006. But in 2007, Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from the PA.

The Egypt-Gaza border is politically sensitive, technically a demilitarized zone under the terms of the Camp David Accords signed in 1978.

Egypt is not allowing the Gazan refugees to escape to safety via the Rafah crossing, unless they pay an exorbitant amount of money. It’s also believed that Egypt made tremendous profits from the smuggling tunnels between the Sinai and Rafah.

At least 1,200 people were killed and 240 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Around 30 of the remaining 133 hostages are believed dead.

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.