Netanyahu Approves Rafah Offensive

Conditions are dire in town that now holds more than half of Gaza's prewar population
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2024 10:44 AM CDT
Netanyahu Approves Rafah Offensive
Palestinians perform the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan near the ruins of a mosque destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, March 15, 2024.   (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for an offensive in Rafah after a meeting of his war cabinet, his office said Friday. "The IDF is preparing for the operational side and for the evacuation of the population," his office said, per CNN. More than a million people, most of them displaced from elsewhere in Gaza, are in Rafah and Israel says they will be moved to "humanitarian islands." A look:

  • Dire conditions. The New York Times looks at the dire conditions in Rafah, which was home to fewer than 300,000 people before the war but is now packed with 1.4 million people, more than half of Gaza's prewar population, according to a United Nations estimate. Most people in Rafah spend their days struggling to meet basic needs: "finding clean water for drinking and bathing, getting enough food, and calming their children when Israeli strikes hit nearby," the Times reports. They now fear that even that precarious existence is threatened by the Israeli offensive.

  • Some grim statistics: NPR reports that the population density in Rafah is now between 63 and 88 people per acre, making it more densely packed than New York City, with a population the size of San Diego's in a 25-square-mile area (San Diego has 25 times that area). Some 600,000 children are in Rafah, and UN screenings have found that 5% of infants there are acutely malnourished. The cost of a 55-pound bag of flour has gone from around $10 before the war to up to $100.
  • "Bleak situation" for women: The "increasingly bleak situation" in Rafah has made life very difficult for women and girls, researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal this week. "Many of the 17,000 women giving birth during the conflict so far have undergone caesarean sections without anaesthesia, resulting in extreme pain and psychological trauma," researchers wrote. "Additionally, there has been a 300% increase in miscarriage rates." They wrote that "many women are forced to prioritize feeding their children at the expense of their own nutritional needs, adversely affecting their health and ability to breastfeed."
  • Aid ship approaches Gaza: A ship from Cyprus carrying 200 tons of aid arrived off northern Gaza on Friday, the AP reports. Authorities say more ships will use the same route if the efforts to deliver aid from the World Central Kitchen is a success. The Open Arms ship that arrived Friday is named after the Spanish charity transporting the aid, NBC News reports.
  • Israel accused of attacking people waiting for aid: The AP reports that according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 20 people were killed and more than 100 injured when Israeli forces launched an attack near an aid distribution point late Thursday. The Israeli military said Palestinian gunmen opened fire and its troops did not fire on civilians. The military said some of the victims were run over by trucks in an aid convoy.
(More Israel-Hamas war stories.)

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