Palestinian Territory - A multidimensional humanitarian catastrophe looms in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, two days after Israel’s army ordered the forced displacement of local residents and previously displaced people, the Israeli ground incursion, and the seizure of the Rafah border crossing.

In light of the ongoing shortage of humanitarian supplies that has been plaguing Gaza Strip residents for months, the Israeli army’s control over the border crossing at Rafah with Egypt is alarming. With this control, Israel is prohibiting aid trucks carrying life-saving supplies and fuel for humanitarian use through both the crossing’s Egyptian gate and the crossing at Kerem Shalom with Israel, portending a swift worsening of the famine that is full-blown in the north and now threatening the southern part of the Strip.

Keeping people and goods from crossing the border at Rafah means cutting off the only means of survival for the people living in the Gaza Strip. It also means denying families and individuals who are attempting to flee the Strip under duress their chance to escape the genocide and their right to free movement. Furthermore, by preventing the sick and injured from receiving treatment abroad, Israel is putting people’s lives in grave danger, especially given the poor quality of medical care available in the Strip as a result of Israel’s genocide, which has specifically targeted the health sector.

As the hub for humanitarian relief efforts and the point of entry for life-saving supplies, Rafah is home to numerous operational relief organisations that stockpile food and water, plus health, sanitation, and hygiene supplies for civilians throughout the Gaza Strip. This indicates that the Israeli military operation is likely to intensify its efforts to starve the people of the Strip and worsen the spread of diseases.

Under intense Israeli tank and aircraft bombardment, 10s of thousands of Palestinians are attempting to escape from Rafah to Al-Mawasi, west of Khan Yunis. In less than 48 hours, this bombardment has resulted in the destruction of approximately 18 homes, the majority of which collapsed on top of their occupants’ heads, killing 52 Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 women.

Rafah’s man hospital, Abu Youssef Al-Najjar, and a nearby health centre have been evacuated in response to recent Israeli evacuation orders. This will have detrimental effects on health services, especially in view of the closure of the road leading to the European Hospital, and will jeopardise the Kuwaiti Hospital’s remaining services, which include two additional field hospitals and X-ray services.

The region’s water pumping has also stopped as a result of the Israeli army’s incursion into the areas east of Rafah, because municipal crews are unable to reach the water pump wells and make repairs. Additionally, the food supplier for Rafah and the rest of the southern Gaza Strip, which is located east of Rafah, is now out of service, which will escalate the famine crisis and is a threat to the diversification of food sources; the entire Strip has already been experiencing a severe hunger crisis for seven months.

The forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of civilian residents does not necessarily mean protecting them from military attacks, as several neighbourhoods in Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah, which the Israeli army had previously declared to be safe zones, have been repeatedly bombed in recent hours.

The Israeli army ordered on 6 May the evacuation of people living in nine eastern Rafah blocks to the “extended humanitarian zone” in Al-Mawasi; the targeted evacuation area was approximately 31 square kilometres. Prior to 7 October 2023, Al-Mawasi was home to about 64,000 Palestinians. It currently houses nine sites sheltering displaced people, three clinics, and six warehouses.

The area of Al-Mawasi, which is one kilometre wide and no longer than 13 kilometres, is currently home to over 400,000 people. With its being frequently bombed by Israel and its few options for relief to reach it since the crossings have been closed, it lacks the facilities needed to house these enormous numbers.

Israel’s army has ordered the illegal evacuation of roughly 277 square kilometres, or roughly 76% of the Gaza Strip’s total area, since 7 October. 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.

Israel apparently intends to launch a massive attack on Rafah—announced 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.

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 attack on Rafah, and abide by the rulings of the International Court of Justice in order to protect Palestinian civilians.