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What fate for Rafah civilians as Israeli invasion looms?

As Israel presses toward an invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are trying to find shelter, the Israeli military says it plans to direct a "significant" number of them toward zones in the center of the Gaza Strip. Referring to the areas as "humanitarian islands," Israel's chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, did not provide details on how or when civilians would be moved when he made the March 13 announcement. Any Israeli invasion of Rafah could trigger an even larger humanitarian catastrophe in the densely crowded area, aid groups have warned for weeks.

Rafah is Gaza's main entry point for aid for its 2.3 million people, most of whom have been displaced by the Israeli bombardment and fighting that has killed some 31,341 Palestinians and wounded 73,134 in the past six months, according to health officials in the Strip. Aid groups say an invasion will complicate efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies, as people continue to suffer from disease and face starvation. Every person in Gaza has been at crisis levels of hunger for months, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) maintained by the Famine Eary Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). Children are dying from starvation, with the UN pointing to at least 20 such deaths this month. Others have died from severe malnutrition, dehydration, and related diseases, and there are critical shortages of drinking water.

Health officials in Gaza said 29 people were killed on March 14 in two separate Israeli attacks at aid distribution points—reports that Israel denied. Hamas, meanwhile, has offered a ceasefire proposal that includes releasing some Israeli hostages in exchange for more than 700 Palestinian prisoners—a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said was based on "unrealistic demands."

From The New Humanitarian, March 15