Humanitarians with several aid groups dug their heels in on Monday after Israel ordered more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate ahead of a planned ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah ― insisting that they “won’t abandon Gazans” ahead of the imminent massacre.

Workers who have been on the ground in Gaza to help Palestinians survive the last seven months of bombardment are sounding the alarm on the dangers of the anticipated ground offensive in Rafah, a city that has become a vital aid hub because a crossing at Egypt’s border serves as the main route for aid to enter the enclave. The crossing will be closed as it falls under Israel’s evacuation zone.

Palestinians in eastern Rafah woke up on Monday morning to flyers falling from the sky telling the already displaced civilians in Arabic to again flee for their lives and move back north, toward al-Mawasi and Khan Younis, according to The Associated Press. Israeli forces have been launching airstrikes on the city for weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Rafah invasion will go forward regardless of whether Israel strikes a deal with Hamas and whether or not the United States will continue to give support to its ally in the Middle East, according to AP. The Israeli military has already killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the enclave, according to local health officials, since it launched strikes in retaliation for a Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack that left an estimated 1,200 Israelis dead and about 240 people taken hostage.

‘We Won’t Abandon Gazans.’

Hundreds of Palestinians, including children, migrate on Monday from eastern neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip after Israel warns them with pamphlets to evacuate Rafah.
Hundreds of Palestinians, including children, migrate on Monday from eastern neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip after Israel warns them with pamphlets to evacuate Rafah.

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) responded to Israel’s evacuation order by stressing it has no intention of leaving behind more than half of Gaza’s population, the people now sheltering in Rafah, saying, “We won’t abandon Gazans.”

“An Israeli offensive in Rafah would mean more civilian suffering and deaths. The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people,” UNRWA posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter. “UNRWA is not evacuating: the agency will maintain a presence in Rafah as long as possible and will continue providing lifesaving aid to people.”

Israel has long painted UNRWA as an agency that helps Hamas militants, accusing a dozen employees several months ago of participating in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Despite the agency immediately firing the accused employees, multiple investigations have shown that there is no evidence to back up Israel’s claims that resulted in UNRWA losing massive funding and threatening Palestinians’ access to aid.

“We are staying. We are remaining where we are right now. We’re going to continue to do what we can to meet the needs of the people, but it’s already been difficult,” UNRWA’s director of planning, Sam Rose, who is in western Rafah, told Sky News. “We’re failing to ward off famine. The situation has become exponentially much more difficult now as we’ve lost our major supply route from Kerem Shalom.”

There are no safe zones in Gaza

The Israeli army issued evacuation orders to Palestinians and other displaced people in several areas of eastern Rafah ahead of a planned ground invasion, urging them to immediately relocate to the coastal town of al-Mawasi.
The Israeli army issued evacuation orders to Palestinians and other displaced people in several areas of eastern Rafah ahead of a planned ground invasion, urging them to immediately relocate to the coastal town of al-Mawasi.

Omar Zaghloul/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Israeli leaflets ordered Palestinians in Rafah to move north, to the coastal town of al-Mawasi and the city of Khan Younis, places that residents and aid workers say are unequipped to handle an influx of refugees. Israel’s military claims that aid services will be provided at the so-called “safe zones,” but such a claim is not consistent with Israel’s track record of bombing the very areas it had deemed safe for Palestinians seeking refuge.

“I have heard that tents have been set up in the al-Mawasi area for displaced individuals by local and international organizations. However, I have doubts about their safety, as we have learned not to trust the occupying army’s assurances of providing safe zones,” Mercy Corps aid worker Salma said through the organization, using a pseudonym to protect herself and her family. “They may find various reasons to launch attacks in what they claim to be a safe zone. Consequently, I have no intention of relocating to that area.”

Israeli forces virtually destroyed Khan Younis earlier this year, raiding hospitals and bombing the neighborhoods around them. Medics recently found hundreds of bodies in mass graves near the hospital, and civil defense forces have reported that many of the bodies showed signs of torture and execution-style killings. Israel Defense Forces have denied burying the bodies.

“They told people to go to Khan Younis. Yes, as you heard, Khan Younis. Khan Younis is 100% destroyed!” Gaza journalist Bisan Owda said in a video posted Monday on Instagram. “The municipality, humanitarian workers and agencies are saying that the schools, the hospitals, the infrastructure, roads and homes of Khan Younis … are 100% destroyed!”

People comb through destroyed tents after Israeli airstrikes hit the al-Mawasi district of Khan Younis, Gaza, on March 26.
People comb through destroyed tents after Israeli airstrikes hit the al-Mawasi district of Khan Younis, Gaza, on March 26.

Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

“There’s not even a place for people to put tents there, yanni (you know), for that it’s dangerous and there’s no places,” she said. “There’s no water, there’s no hospitals, no schools, no homes, no roads. The still-standing but destroyed buildings are about to fall. It’s too dangerous to be in Khan Younis.”

Al-Mawasi is a Bedouin town west of Rafah where 400,000 Palestinians are already sheltering, according to UNRWA’s latest assessment. Despite being deemed a “humanitarian zone” by Israel, conditions are dire, with insufficient infrastructure to support hundreds of thousands of refugees.

“Al Mawasi is a desert area adjacent to the sea with no signs of life, no electricity, no water and few houses. Last week, we conducted an aid distribution in this area, marking one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve witnessed,” Saleem, another aid worker for Mercy Corps, who also asked to be identified by a pseudonym, said on April 29 in a statement provided to HuffPost by the humanitarian organization.

“Picture this: Tents stretching endlessly under the scorching sun, with no relief in sight ― no electricity, no water and no aid. It was chaotic and unorganized. During the day, the inside of the tents felt like a sauna. Just two days ago, during a heatwave, a 5-year-old girl tragically lost her life due to the extreme heat,” Saleem said. “Of course, I will not head there.”

A Health Care Crisis Worsens.

Palestinians mourn their loved ones killed in an Israeli attack Monday on Rafah. Bodies, including those of women and children, have been brought to the mortuary of Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital for burial.
Palestinians mourn their loved ones killed in an Israeli attack Monday on Rafah. Bodies, including those of women and children, have been brought to the mortuary of Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital for burial.

Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli forces have made it impossible for Gaza’s health care and humanitarian workers to medically treat Palestinians as soldiers raid and destroy hospitals and clinics across the Gaza Strip. In Israel’s designated red zone in Rafah is Al Najjar hospital, where one doctor said patients have been “dying a slow death for the last seven months.”

“They suffer from cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease and other pre-existing conditions that have gone untreated for the better part of the last 212 days,” Dr. Mhoira Leng, a palliative care doctor who volunteered at the hospital, said in a statement provided by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group. “Al Najjar hospital staff has been providing care against all odds: The staff are living in tents with scarce access to food. Now they are being forced to flee and move immovable patients out of the only hospital providing this care in Gaza.”

U.N. experts said in a news release Monday that a Rafah invasion would further endanger pregnant women and new mothers, who are already disproportionately affected by Israel’s daily bombardments, the destruction of maternity wards and the lack of necessary medication. More than 180 Palestinian women a day are giving birth without pain relief, and miscarriages have increased by up to 300%, the U.N. experts said Monday.

“Rafah is the main hub of the humanitarian response in Gaza and has some of its last functioning health facilities. This includes the al-Helal al-Emirati Maternity Hospital, which is now the main facility for pregnant women in Rafah, managing around 60 deliveries every day,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the U.N. agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA), said in a statement Saturday.

“An attack on Rafah could turn this and other facilities from places of hope into rubble and dust ― putting at risk the lives of tens of thousands of pregnant women.”

Children In Rafah Are On The ‘Edge Of Survival’

Palestinian children line up Saturday to help their families as Palestinians wait for hours in front of the water dispensers for daily water supplies in Rafah.
Palestinian children line up Saturday to help their families as Palestinians wait for hours in front of the water dispensers for daily water supplies in Rafah.

Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images

Humanitarian workers are deeply concerned about how the pending Rafah invasion will affect Gaza’s children, who, along with women, make up the majority of the Palestinian death toll. About half of Rafah’s population is children, many of whom have been repeatedly displaced during the military campaign and are sheltering in tents.

According to UNICEF, Israel’s siege on Rafah would pose “catastrophic risks” to the 600,000 children sheltering in the southern city, many of whom are “highly vulnerable and at the edge of survival.”

“More than 200 days of war have taken an unimaginable toll on the lives of children,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a press release. “Rafah is now a city of children, who have nowhere safe to go in Gaza. If large-scale military operations start, not only will children be at risk from the violence but also from chaos and panic, and at a time where their physical and mental states are already weakened.”

Without enough food, water and medicine, children in Gaza ― many now orphaned and maimed ― are bearing the brunt of Israel’s military offensive. According to local health officials, the attacks have killed more than 14,000 Palestinian children, and more are believed to be dead under the rubble.

Smoke billows after Israeli forces bombard Rafah on Monday.
Smoke billows after Israeli forces bombard Rafah on Monday.

“Hundreds of thousands of children who are now cramped into Rafah are injured, sick, malnourished, traumatized or living with disabilities,” Russell said in the UNICEF statement. “Many have been displaced multiple times and have lost homes, parents and loved ones. They need to be protected, along with the remaining services that they rely on, including medical facilities and shelters.”

Israel has faced repeated criticism from humanitarian groups and its allies, including the U.S., over the plan to invade Rafah, but Netanyahu and his cabinet have maintained that the military will move forward with the siege.

Hamas leaders accepted a cease-fire proposal on Monday, leaving it up to Israel to decide whether to agree to a deal to end the violence and free remaining hostages. Netanyahu said Monday that he would send negotiators to continue talks, AP reported.


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