The war between Israel and Hamas: Satellite images show the rapid exodus of Palestinians from Rafah

JERUSALEM (AP) — Newly released satellite images reviewed by The Associated Press show a mass exodus of Palestinians from the city of Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip earlier this month ahead of Israel’s frightening ground invasion there.

Pictures taken three days apart — first on May 5 and then on May 8 — show the change on the ground after Israel issued its first evacuation order for the city on May 6.

They showed that crowded tent camps in the central and northwestern areas of the city became dispersed within days of the order being issued.

One before-and-after photo shows an area near the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp, one of the camps built for displaced families during the war that followed the creation of Israel in 1948.

In the three days between the photos, at least half of the hundreds of tents crowded in the area disappeared, most likely because the Palestinians packed up and left.

The other two photos show the central Shaboura neighborhood in Rafah. Tents crowded on city streets give way to patches of sand.

The departures come as Israel threatens a full invasion of the city, which has sparked global concern. Before evacuation orders were issued, about 1.3 million Palestinians — many of them already displaced from other parts of Gaza — had sought refuge there, according to the United Nations.

It is not clear where all the Palestinians who are packing up their tents and fleeing Rafah are headed. Human rights groups say no place in Gaza has enough food, water or tents for the newly displaced masses. The area to which Israel directed the Palestinians is already overcrowded and residents say it is little more than an area A miserable makeshift tent camp.

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The Israeli army told reporters on Monday that 900,000 Palestinians had left Rafah. Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said this number was possible, adding that the UN count on Sunday was 800,000.

Israel has so far classified its operations in the city as limited in scope, a claim echoed by the United States. But Omar Shaker, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said the mass exodus showed a different reality on the ground and called on the international community to stop the threatened Israeli attack.

“Today we have a situation where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have once again been displaced from their homes, terrified, and have nowhere to go,” he said.

The Israeli military said on Monday that the war would likely last another six months. This statement came at a time when the ceasefire talks seemed frozen, with international mediators who were hoping to reach an agreement between Israel and Hamas becoming increasingly frustrated due to the intransigence of the bitter enemies.

The war began after the Hamas-led attack on October 7 that killed about 1,200 Israelis. The Israeli attack on Gaza led to the death of about 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Hamas-led Gaza Strip, and the displacement of three-quarters of the Strip’s population.


Holm reported from New York.


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