Israel-Hamas cease-fire hope fades, Palestinians told to evacuate east Rafah ahead of expected offensive

Israel-Hamas cease-fire hope fades, Palestinians told to evacuate east Rafah ahead of expected offensive

Israel’s military ordered Palestinians in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah to evacuate Monday ahead of a ground offensive long promised by the Jewish state’s leaders. The message was delivered with fliers, phone calls, messages and media broadcasts in Arabic after a weekend that saw hope for a new cease-fire in the seven-month Israel-Hamas war dashed yet again. 

People quickly started fleeing from the eastern part of Rafah on Monday, on foot or by any other means available to them. There were reports of Israeli airstrikes hitting eastern Rafah just hours after the evacuation order was given, but the military did not immediately confirm any new strikes on the crowded city.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had stressed its intent to carry out an incursion into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, over the last week despite last-ditch efforts led by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt to broker a new cease-fire deal. 

Displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, pack their belongings following an evacuation order by the Israeli army, May 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.


Those diplomatic efforts appeared to fizzle by Sunday however, with Israel and Hamas blaming each other for the impasse and Hamas then carrying out a deadly rocket attack on an Israeli military checkpoint near a key border crossing between Israel and Gaza.

had been hope last week that the latest flurry of international diplomacy might yield a new agreement to secure the release of dozens more Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a halt in the fighting — averting a Rafah offensive — the IDF appeared to be preparing for that operation in the wake of the Hamas attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Israeli soldiers and medics walk near an ambulance after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack on Kerem Shalom crossing
Israeli soldiers and medics walk near an ambulance after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack on Kerem Shalom crossing, near Israel’s border with Gaza in southern Israel, May 5, 2024.

Amir Cohen / REUTERS

Hamas militants launched the rocket attack Sunday from the eastern part of Rafah, hitting the IDF checkpoint only about 1,000 feet away, next to the crossing point. The strike killed four IDF soldiers and wounded at least several more, the military said Monday, raising the death toll given the previous day by one.

The IDF would not confirm that the evacuation order issued Monday was linked directly to the Hamas attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhuri was quoted by the Reuters news agency Monday as saying the evacuation order constituted “a dangerous escalation” on Israel’s part, which he warned would “have consequences.”

Zuhuri blamed the U.S. for continuing to back Israel in the war, which was sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, which saw the militants kill some 1,200 people and take about 240 others hostage. About 100 of those captives, including five U.S. nationals, are still believed to be alive, held by Hamas or its allies in Gaza.

The Axios news outlet, citing an unnamed official with Hamas, said Monday that the group — long designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S. — was threatening to walk away from the negotiations for another hostage release and cease-fire over the evacuation order.

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Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, addressing IDF troops in Gaza during a visit Sunday, said Israel saw “signs that Hamas does not intend to follow any plan” for a cease-fire, which he said would mean “an intense action in Rafah in the near future, and in other places all over the strip.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who’ve sought refuge in Rafah — many of them displaced multiple times already by Israel’s war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers — Monday morning brought more fear and uncertainty.

“They are calling people in the eastern area of Rafah, some also in the west, near the Rafah crossing, ordering them to leave,” said Palestinian Abu Muhey, who has been sheltering with family members north of Rafah. “We don’t know what to do, but I will take my family to Deir Al-Balah,” he said, suggesting they would try to flee even further north in the decimated Palestinian territory.

Part of the Southern District of Israel, political map, with the Gaza Strip
A map shows southern Israel, the Gaza Strip and surrounding countries, including the location of the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.


Given the scale of destruction in Gaza already, U.S. officials have voiced concern for weeks about the feasibility of moving so many people out of harm’s way in advance of any Rafah offensive. The United Nations, meanwhile, along with neigboring nations and a range of aid organizations, has issued a series of increasingly dire warnings that a full-scale military operation in the city would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk of death.

“An Israeli offensive in #Rafah would mean more civilian suffering & deaths. The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people,” the U.N.’s humanitarian agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, reiterated in a social media post on Monday. 

“UNRWA is not evacuating,” the U.N. agency stated bluntly in its tweet. “The Agency will maintain a presence in Rafah as long as possible & will continue providing lifesaving aid to people.”

The foreign minister of neighboring Jordan, in a message posted Monday on social media, warned that “another massacre of the Palestinians is in the making.”

“Israel is warning Palestinians to leave Rafah as it threatens an attack,” said Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. “All must act now to prevent it. Failure to prevent the massacre will be an indelible stain on Int’l Cmyt (the International Community). Too many massacres have been allowed. Enough.”