UN Agency Reports 800,000 Forced to Flee Rafah Amid Israeli Military Operations

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories – On May 18, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, reported that 800,000 people have been “forced to flee” the far-southern city of Rafah in Gaza since Israel commenced military operations there earlier this month.

“Nearly half of the population of Rafah or 800,000 people are on the road, having been forced to flee since the Israeli forces started the military operation in the area on 6 May,” Lazzarini stated on social media platform X. He detailed that, following evacuation orders, Gazans have fled to the central areas and Khan Younis, often seeking shelter in destroyed buildings.

“Every time, they are forced to leave behind the few belongings they have… Every time, they have to start from scratch, all over again,” he added.

Israel has described the ground assault on Rafah as essential to its efforts against Palestinian militants, labeling Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza. Prior to the operation, Israel advised hundreds of thousands of Gazans in certain eastern parts of the city to evacuate, framing the operation as “limited.”

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has firmly objected to the expansion of operations in Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinian civilians were taking refuge before the operation commenced.

Heavy clashes and bombardment struck Rafah on May 18, as Israel intensified its assault against Hamas militants. An AFP reporter observed that air strikes and artillery shells hit the eastern parts of the city, with warplanes flying overhead.

Lazzarini highlighted the dire conditions of the displaced people, who are fleeing to areas lacking water supplies and adequate sanitation. He noted that the town of Al-Mawasi, covering 14 square kilometers on the coast, and the central city of Deir el-Balah, are “crammed” with newly displaced individuals.