Palestinian Territory - The Israeli army issued on Monday new evacuation orders against 10s of thousands of displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip. These orders are an apparent prelude to the start of its new military operation, which threatens to execute more than 1.2 million people in the city and is an escalation of Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in the Strip, a crime that has been ongoing since 7 October 2023.

Through written leaflets, text messages, and recorded phone calls, the Israeli army has ordered Rafah’scivilian population to move out of the city’s eastern neighbourhoods, particularly the area of Al-Shouka as well as Al-Salam, Al-Geneina, and Al-Byouk, toward the area of Al-Mawasi. However, Israel provided no explanation as to how the civilian population would be safely transported to Al-Mawasi, which is west of the nearby city of Khan Yunis, or how they would be organised upon their arrival.

More than 200,000 people may be targeted by the displacement orders, which also affect the Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital, Rafah’s main hospital, as well as the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings. It should be noted that humanitarian aid access through these crossings has been stopped since yesterday afternoon.

The Israeli army’s new displacement orders came with a warning that Gaza City and its north “remain a dangerous combat zone”, making it impossible for Palestinian residents to go north. At the same time, airstrikes on residential homes in Rafah haveintensified in recent hours, leaving 26 people dead—the majority of them women and children—and dozens more wounded. More people reportedly remain missing under the rubble.

Orders for the forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of civilians do not imply that they will be shielded from Israel’s military attacks; this is especially alarming given that the great majority of them have already experienced multiple displacements and have nowhere else to go. Israel launched its first aerial assault on Rafah at the start of its genocidal war on the Gaza Strip, during which hundreds of neighbourhoods and residential buildings were struck without prior warning.

The Israeli army has been ordering the illegal evacuation of approximately 246 square kilometres, or roughly 67% of the Gaza Strip’s total area, since 7 October 2023. This covers every area north of the Gaza Valley, whose residents were told to leave in late October, as well as certain areas south of the Gaza Valley that have been under constant evacuation orders from the Israeli army since 1 December 2023.

Before beginning ground operations, the Israeli army often issues displacement orders that contain a number of serious errors, such as contradicting information and naming areas incorrectly, which prevents displaced civilians from finding safety. Additionally, Israel appears to have violated its obligation to provide “effective advanced warnings” under international humanitarian law.

Any Israeli military operation in Rafah poses a grave risk to hundreds of thousands of civilians, particularly women and children. These civilians risk being made victims of horrifying atrocities against them; in addition, they risk the consequences from Israel putting an end to life-saving humanitarian relief efforts throughout the Gaza Strip.

Israel apparently intends to launch a massive attack on Rafah, 213 days into its ongoing genocide, without considering the fate of the hundreds of thousands of residents and displaced people who have sought refuge there after the Israeli army previously declared it a safe zone. Given the volume of displaced people, storming the city poses a serious threat of massacre and raises urgent concerns about the scenario of forced displacement outside the Gaza Strip.

With its prior military orders to evacuate other areas of the Strip, and the weight of bombing and casualties, Israel is already conducting one of the biggest and most widespread forced displacement operations in modern history. Israel has forced roughly two million Palestinians to relocate and take up temporary homes in shelters and tents, with over half of them centred in the border city of Rafah.

Furthermore, Rafah serves as a hub for humanitarian relief efforts and the point of entry for vital humanitarian supplies. Numerous relief organisations that supply food and water, plus health, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip, store these supplies in Rafah. Israel’s potentialground incursion poses an existential threat to residents all over the Strip, who are currently struggling to survive, and is expected to worsen the spread of diseases brought on by the military operation.

A larger wave of displacement, increased overcrowding, and the elimination of opportunities to obtain basic food and water will result from the impending Israeli ground attack on Rafah, which may be the deadliest point of escalation against Palestinian civilians. The Strip’s health system, which is already nearly destroyed, would likely collapse completely. Rafah’s Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital, one of 12 partially operational hospitals in the Strip, out of its total of 36 hospitals, is also targeted by the new evacuation orders. The other 11 hospitals include two in northern Gaza, three in Gaza City, two in Deir al-Balah, and two in Khan Yunis, as well as three in Rafah, central, and southern Gaza. These hospitals are overcrowded with patients, run at a limited capacity, and struggle with a severe lack of fuel, medications, supplies, and personnel.

In the southern Gaza Strip, six field hospitals are running at full capacity, and 70 percent of primary health care centres remain unusable.

About 600,000 children are estimated to be shelteringin the city of Rafah, the great majority of whom are either injured, ill, and/or malnourished. It is unknown what will happen to these children, who are among the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who fled to the southernmost point of the Gaza Strip in order to avoid being killed directly or from starvation. This situation requires decisive intervention to stop Israel from escalating its genocide and forced displacement crimes.

The international community must uphold its legal and international obligations to stop Israel from committing the crime of genocide in the Gaza Strip, activate effective pressure tactics to stop Israel’s military attackon Rafah, and abide by the rulings of the International Court of Justice in order to protect Palestinian civilians.