Satellite imagery shows Palestinians fleeing Rafah’s tent cities as threat of major attack looms

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Palestinians have begun to flee Rafah’s tent cities in large numbers over the past 72 hours, as the threat of a potential major Israeli assault looms, new satellite imagery from Planet Labs shows.

Satellite images show tent camps in Rafah, Gaza, on May 5 and May 8. Planet Labs, PBC

Some of the tent camps had been in United Nations schools, others in open fields, or along roadways for months. Now, a significant number have vanished, but many remain in the camps despite IDF orders to leave.

Rafah has become the central focus of Israel’s war in Gaza, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces growing pressure from the extreme wing of his coalition to launch a full-scale ground operation in the city to destroy Hamas, while the more moderate wing has urged him to prioritize securing a ceasefire-for-hostages deal.

International pressure is growing for Israel not to move in on the densely populated city. During nearly seven months of war, more than 1 million Palestinians have taken refuge in Rafah. Hamas is also believed to have regrouped in the area, after Israel’s destruction of much of the strip’s north.

Satellite images show tent camps in Rafah, Gaza, on May 5 and May 8. Planet Labs, PBC

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden sent shockwaves through the US and Israel when he warned that the US would halt some shipments of American weapons should Netanyahu order a major invasion of the city.

Gazans began fleeing Rafah on Monday, after Israel’s military issued a call for residents in the east of Rafah to “evacuate immediately” toward Al Mawasi and other areas north of Rafah. Many people have fled further north than Al-Mawasi, heading for areas in central Gaza that have more infrastructure.

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