The Palestinian Perspective on the IDF Operation in Rafah

The leaflet the IDF distributed to the residents of east Rafah (IDF spokesperson, May 6, 2024).

The leaflet the IDF distributed to the residents of east Rafah (IDF spokesperson, May 6, 2024).

Channeling Gazans in Rafah towards the humanitarian zone (IDF spokesperson's X account, May 6, 2024)

Channeling Gazans in Rafah towards the humanitarian zone (IDF spokesperson's X account, May 6, 2024)

Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)

Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)

Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)

Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)

IDF attacks in east Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel. Right: May 7, 2024. Left: May 9, 2024)

IDF attacks in east Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel. Right: May 7, 2024. Left: May 9, 2024)

IDF force at the Rafah Crossing (IDF Spokesperson website, May 7, 2024).

IDF force at the Rafah Crossing (IDF Spokesperson website, May 7, 2024).

Overview[1]
  • On the night of May 6, 2024, guided by intelligence, IDF forces initiated an activity in limited areas in east Rafah, targeting Hamas terrorist facilities. The forces took control of the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing, which is situated in the east of the city. The activity began shortly after mortar shells were fired at the Kerem Shalom Crossing, killing four IDF soldiers and wounding several others. Israeli Air Force aircrafts, Israeli navy ships and IDF ground forces attacked Hamas terrorist targets, including military buildings, underground and other terrorist facilities from which Hamas has operated in the Rafah area since the beginning of the war. The Palestinians reported more than 30 dead.
  • Prior to the operation, the IDF began evacuating the residents of east Rafah to an expanded humanitarian zone in Mawasi Khan Yunis in the central Gaza Strip. UNRWA and Palestinian media outlets reported tens of thousands of residents evacuated from the area, although Hamas claimed lower numbers. Even after the start of the operation, thousands of Gazans continued to move out of east Rafah.
  • The IDF takeover and closing of the Rafah Crossing provoked reactions from Palestinian figures and international aid organizations, which claimed that the cessation of the delivery of humanitarian aid would worsen the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The Arab world also condemned the IDF’s action and expressed concern regarding the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
  • Hezbollah, the Houthis and the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq threatened that if Israel entered Rafah they would escalate their attacks, and have in fact carried out their threats with more reported attacks.
  • Egypt prepared for the operation and raised the alert level of its forces in the border area, especially in the Rafah area, out of concern that Gazans enter its territory.
  • It is currently unclear how long the IDF operation in east Rafah will last and if it will expand to other areas. Meanwhile, the efforts of the United States, Qatar and Egypt to reach a deal to release the hostages continue. Contrary to the statements of senior Hamas members before the operation, its representatives continued the negotiations for a ceasefire and a hostage deal even as IDF forces operate in Rafah.
Further Information
Evacuating east Rafah
  • Before the start of the operation in Rafah, the IDF began to evacuate the civilian population from the fighting areas in the east of the city, sending them towards the expanded humanitarian zone in Mawasi Khan Yunis in the central Gaza Strip. The area has field hospitals, tents and increased quantities of food, water, medicine and other supplies. On the morning of May 6, 2024, the IDF distributed leaflets to the residents, sent SMS messages and called their phones, urging them to leave the area, while increasing its cooperation with international organizations to help direct the residents to the humanitarian zone (IDF spokesperson, Israeli media, May 6, 2024).
  • Egypt also prepared for an Israeli operation in Rafah. About ten days before it began, Egyptian sources reported that instructions had been sent to a number of districts, including Suez, Port Said, Ismailia, North and South Sinai, to put the forces on the highest level of alert (al-Araby al-Jadeed, April 26, 2024). It was also reported that Egyptian army forces in Egyptian Rafah completed their deployment along the border to prevent Gazans from entering Egyptian territory.
Channeling Gazans in Rafah towards the humanitarian zone (IDF spokesperson's X account, May 6, 2024)    The leaflet the IDF distributed to the residents of east Rafah (IDF spokesperson, May 6, 2024).
Right: The leaflet the IDF distributed to the residents of east Rafah (IDF spokesperson, May 6, 2024). Left: Channeling Gazans in Rafah towards the humanitarian zone (IDF spokesperson’s X account, May 6, 2024)
  • Al-Jazeera TV reported that the IDF’s call to evacuate east Rafah had created an atmosphere of anxiety and confusion among both permanent residents and displaced persons in the area, who rushed to the markets to stock up on basic necessities (al-Jazeera.net, May 6, 2024). It was also reported that before the start of the IDF operation residents of Rafah began exhuming the bodies of their loved ones, fearing they would be desecrated by the IDF forces (Wafa YouTube channel, May 1, 2024).
  • Displaced persons from other areas in the Gaza Strip currently in camps in the west of Rafah claimed they would have nowhere to evacuate to, if required, and would prefer to stay where they are (Wafa YouTube channel, May 7 and 8, 2024). The Palestinian media also reported lively commercial activities in the center of Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel, May 8, 2024).
  • The IDF operation in east Rafah began a few hours after Hamas announced its acceptance of a ceasefire proposal with Israel, an announcement that provoked joyful reactions in Rafah. People said they had been waiting impatiently for the announcement of a ceasefire, and some said they hoped they would be able to return to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip. However, they waited in vain and are once again in a war zone. Many of them said they doubted the war would ever end (Arab World Press, May 7, 2024).
  • Ahmed al-Sufi, head of Rafah’s Hamas-affiliated municipality, estimated that about 150,000 people, local residents and displaced persons, were required to evacuate, and claimed no areas had been prepared to receive them and there were no tents. He claimed the Mawasi region was small, could not hold such a large number of people and did not have the necessary facilities (Aljazeera.net, May 6, 2024). Speaking with al-Hadath TV, he claimed that no means of transportation had been provided and the residents would have to evacuate on foot or use carts and horses (al-Hadath TV YouTube channel, May 6, 2024).
  • UNRWA reported that at least 80,000 residents had evacuated in the three days following the publication of the Israeli warning (UNRWA X account, May 9, 2024), and the Palestinian media published photos of residents leaving east Rafah (Palestinian media, May 6, 2024).
  • Hamas tried to minimize the extent of the actual evacuation. The Hamas government media office in the Gaza Strip claimed the response to Israel’s evacuation demand had been minimal and the essential institutions in east Rafah were still operating (Hamas government media office Telegram channel, May 6, 2024). Al-Sufi also told al-Hadath TV that residents were worried and fearful, but that not many of them were leaving (al-Hadath TV YouTube channel, May 6, 2024).
Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)    Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)
Gazans evacuate east Rafah (Right: Wafa, May 8, 2024. Left: (al-Quds, May 6, 2024)
  • The Palestinian media reported that residents of east Rafah continued to evacuate even after IDF tanks entered the area and Israeli Air Force attacks increased (Wafa, May 8, 2024). A correspondent in Rafah from the daily al-Quds, who toured the city and met residents, reported that tens of thousands had fled the area. Some said were evacuating to the central Gaza Strip and others to Mawasi Rafah, in the west of the city. Following the mass migration of east Rafah residents from the combat zone to the central Gaza Strip, it was reported that Deir al-Balah was filled with evacuees who had erected tents in every possible location in the city. According to the residents of Deir al-Balah, their city could not accommodate the huge number of displaced persons who arrived because their water and sewage facilities could not cope with such an increase in population (Wafa YouTube channel, May 9, 2024).
Palestinian reports of IDF activity
  • The Palestinian media reported that before the start of the IDF ground operation in Rafah, intensive air force strikes were carried out in east Rafah. After the operation began, Hisham Zaqout, a correspondent for al-Jazeera TV in Rafah, reported on non-stop IDF artillery fire and air force strikes in east Rafah. The focal points of the attack were the al-Janina and al-Salam neighborhoods and the village of al-Shuka (al-Quds, May 7, 2024). Later, it was reported that the IDF continued attacking east Rafah, especially the area of Dahaniya Airport (Wafa YouTube channel, May 9, 2024). According to reports, the IDF’s operation is limited to an area of only three square kilometers, and the targets attacked were tall buildings used by the Palestinian terrorist organizations for surveillance and gathering information about the IDF (al-Jazeera YouTube channel, May 8, 2024).
  • It was also reported that the IDF activities forced Mohammed Yousef El-Najar Hospital, considered the city’s main hospital, to stop its operations and refer wounded and patients to other hospitals in Rafah (al-Jazeera YouTube channel, May 8, 2024). Doctors Without Borders announced the evacuation of the patients from the Indonesian field hospital in Rafah, and suspending the medical services provided at al-Shaboura clinic until further notice. The organization announced that the activities of the UAE’s field hospital would now be the responsibility of the ministry of health in Gaza, and they intended to establish two new field  hospitals in Deir al-Balah (Arab World Press, May 7, 2024).
IDF attacks in east Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel. Right: May 7, 2024. Left: May 9, 2024)     IDF attacks in east Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel. Right: May 7, 2024. Left: May 9, 2024)
IDF attacks in east Rafah (Wafa YouTube channel. Right: May 7, 2024. Left: May 9, 2024)
The Rafah Crossing
  • After the IDF takeover of the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing (the only supply channel for the transfer of aid from the Egyptian border) and the closure of the Crossing, Palestinian officials warned that the delivery of humanitarian aid and the exit of the sick and wounded for treatment abroad would end, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip (al-Quds, May 7, 2024).
  • UNRWA stated that the disruption of the functioning of the Rafah Crossing would stop the delivery of necessary humanitarian aid. The agency claimed that the critical hunger faced by the Palestinians, especially in the north of the Gaza Strip, would worsen if the supply routes were disrupted (UNRWA X Account, May 7, 2024).
  • Meanwhile, attempts were initiated to find alternatives to Hamas’ control of the Crossing. The Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily al-Akhbar reported from “informed sources” that Majed Faraj, head of Palestinian General Intelligence, was again trying to advance an initiative for the management and operation of the Rafah Crossing by General Intelligence operatives who would be brought into the Gaza Strip to supervise the Crossing. According to the sources, the initiative, whose previous attempts to promote had failed, was part of plans for the civil administration of the Strip after the end of the war (al-Akhbar, May 8, 2024).
The Israeli flag at the Rafah Crossing (al-Quds, May 7, 2024)     IDF force at the Rafah Crossing (IDF Spokesperson website, May 7, 2024).
Right: IDF force at the Rafah Crossing (IDF Spokesperson website, May 7, 2024). Left: The Israeli flag at the Rafah Crossing (al-Quds, May 7, 2024)
Hamas reactions
  • Before the IDF operation in Rafah began, Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, told an interviewer that if Israel entered Rafah the Palestinians would not surrender and the “resistance” [terrorist operatives] in Rafah was also prepared to defend itself, confront the “aggression” and defend the Palestinians (Anatolia Agency, April 21, 2024). Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, who gave a speech to mark the 200th day of the war in the Gaza Strip, claimed they were not afraid of the IDF’s operation in Rafah. Senior Hamas members that reported their “military operatives” were prepared for such an action, and claimed it would not cause them to change their negotiating positions (Hamas website, April 23, 2024).
  • At the beginning of the activity, Hamas claimed the IDF’s invasion of the Rafah Crossing was a serious escalation against a civilian facility protected by international law, and its objective was to worsen the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip by closing the Crossing and thereby preventing the transfer of emergency aid. Hamas added that the “crime,” which was committed immediately after Hamas announced its agreement to the mediators’ proposal, confirmed Israel’s intention to sabotage the mediation efforts for a ceasefire and the release of the Palestinian prisoners. Hamas called on the American administration and the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop the “escalation” (Hamas website, May 7, 2024). Al-Hadath TV quoted “sources” who said that Hamas demanded guarantees that Israel would not continue to control the Rafah Crossing (al-Hadath Telegram channel, May 8, 2024).
  • Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, warned that any military action in Rafah would put the negotiations in jeopardy. He added that a military action in Rafah would not be a “picnic” for the IDF, and that Netanyahu and his government bore full responsibility (Shehab Telegram channel, May 6, 2024).
Reactions in the Palestinian Authority (PA)
  • Before the start of the IDF operation in Rafah, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA chairman, tried to prevent it by meeting with Arab and international officials on April 28, 2024. He gave a speech at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh in which he expressed concern, and noted that only the United States could stop Israel from carrying out the operation (Wafa, April 28, 2024).
  • Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, claimed the occupation of the Rafah Crossing, the threat to evict the Palestinians from the shelters and places of residence, and the prevention of the entry of UN workers into the Strip were “war crimes” for which Israel had to be brought to justice. He called on the American administration to prevent Israel, without hesitation, from invading Rafah and expelling the Palestinians (Wafa, May 7, 2024).
  • Mahmoud al-Habash, advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, had an unusual reaction, holding Hamas responsible for everything that had happened and would happen in Rafah because, he said, Hamas wanted to continue controlling the Gaza Strip. He added that Hamas provided Israel with all the excuses for continuing the war, and the Gazans were the ones who would pay the price for Hamas’ adventures (al-Arabiya TV, May 6, 2024).

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