Photo Credit: Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
A tent camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, set up for Palestinians who evacuated from their homes, Jan. 30, 2024.

Only a fortnight after the start of the Israel Defense Forces’ targeted operation in Rafah, almost a million Gazans have been evacuated from the city to humanitarian zones, according to a military estimate made public on Monday.

According to the IDF, 950,000 Gazans have already left the Hamas stronghold on the Egyptian border. Approximately 300,000 to 400,000 noncombatants remain in Rafah, primarily in the coastal area and parts of the city center, Ynet cited army officials as saying.


Almost all of them—some 300,000—are expected to remain in Rafah, similar to the number of Gazans civilians who remained in Gaza City following the IDF’s ground maneuver there, Ynet added.

Security officials were said to have been surprised by the rapid evacuation, including from areas for which no evacuation order was issued.

The population of Gaza’s southernmost city, which stood at 263,876 in early 2022 according to the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics, swelled by over a million people in the early weeks of the war as Gaza residents fled from the fighting in northern Gaza.

Biden administration officials had estimated that the humanitarian operation would take at least “several months,” The Washington Post reported as recently as May 11.

Israel’s War Cabinet on May 6 decided to “continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to promote the release of our hostages and the other goals of the war.”

Israeli troops took control of the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt the following morning, as tanks from the IDF’s 162nd Division’s 401st Armored Brigade rolled up to the border station. Egypt is not letting Gazan civilians escape the war zone into the Sinai, unless they pay at least $10,000 per person.

The Rafah operation, which Israel estimates will last around two months, is being carried out in stages as opposed to a full-scale invasion. The phased nature of the operation allows for it to be paused should a hostage release deal be reached with Hamas.

President Joe Biden has frequently made clear that his administration does not support a major offensive in Rafah. Instead, the White House favors a limited operation aimed at attacking high-value Hamas targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that conquering Rafah is essential to winning the war against Hamas. Israel says Hamas’s final four battalions, comprising some 3,000 terrorists, are holed up in the city, as well as the terrorist group’s senior leadership.

Many of the 128 hostages still in the hands of Hamas after more than 220 days are believed to be held in Rafah. Two captives were rescued from the city by special forces in a military operation in February.

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