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Mapped: Where is Rafah, the city Israel is about to invade?

Israel has ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the Gaza city of Rafah as fears of a ground invasion become urgent.

About 1.4 million Palestinians – more than half of Gaza’s population – are crammed into the city and its environs, living in tightly packed tent camps, shelters or crowded apartments after fleeing to Rafah in the hope of avoiding Israel’s attacks to escape.

Leaflets in Rafah tell people to move to the nearby Israeli-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi (Delivered)

On Monday, people received flyers in Arabic telling people to move to the nearby Israeli-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi. The flyers detailed which neighborhood blocks had to leave and where the humanitarian zones had expanded.

They also said emergency services would spread from Deir al Balah in the north to the center of the city of Khan Younis, in the center of the Gaza Strip.

“Anyone found near (militant) organizations puts themselves and their family members at risk. For your safety, the (army) urges you to immediately evacuate to the extended humanitarian area,” it said.

But where is Rafah, and why is Israel now targeting the city? The independent has put together the answers and a map below.

Where is Rafa located?

Rafah is a city in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt. When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, now part of Egypt, in 1982, it was split into Gaza and Egypt.

It was initially a safe haven for people fleeing northern Gaza in the early stages of the most recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, when Palestinians were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of heavy Israeli bombardment.

But the city is now home to around 1.4 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population – and Mr Netanyahu has ordered a ground invasion of the area, where he says Hamas operatives are hiding.

Most Rafah residents live in temporary structures such as tents and aid groups have warned of a dire humanitarian situation.

A child looks at the rubble after Israeli airstrikes on Rafah, Gaza, that night (EPA)

Why is Israel now targeting Rafah?

Israel has described Rafah as Hamas’s last major stronghold after seven months of war, and its leaders have repeatedly said the invasion is necessary to defeat the Islamist militant group.

Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, an army spokesman, said Israel was preparing an “operation of a limited scope” and would not say whether this was the start of a broader invasion of the city.

But after October 7 and the unprecedented attack on southern Israel by Hamas, Israel did not formally announce the launch of a ground invasion that continues to this day.

Defense Secretary Yoav Gallant told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last night that Israel had “no choice” but to act in Rafah. On Sunday, Hamas carried out a deadly rocket attack from the Rafah area, killing four Israeli soldiers.

Earlier this year, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the Rafah operation was very “complex,” adding: “We have been working on this operation for a long time. We had to wait for the right circumstances.”

Vice Admiral Daniel Hagari, another IDF spokesman, called it “a complex rescue operation under fire in the heart of Rafah, based on highly sensitive and valuable intelligence from the Intelligence Directorate and the Israeli Security Service.”

What has the reaction been?

The international community has warned against Israel taking action in Rafah, with renewed calls for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict.

“An Israeli offensive in Rafah would mean more civilian casualties and deaths,” an UNRWA spokesperson said. “The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people. @UNRWA is not evacuating: the Agency will maintain a presence in Rafah for as long as possible and will continue to provide life-saving assistance to people.”

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrel, added: “Israel’s evacuation orders to civilians in Rafah portend the worst: more war and famine. It’s unacceptable. Israel must refrain from a ground offensive and implement UNSCR 2728 (UN Security Council Resolution).

“The EU can and must act together with the international community to prevent such a scenario.”

Politicians in Britain have also condemned the move.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, tweeted on Monday: “An Israeli offensive in Rafah would be catastrophic. It cannot continue.

“We need an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of hostages and immediate, unhindered aid to Gaza.”

And a spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry agreed: “France also remembers that the forced displacement of a civilian population is a war crime under international law.”

Charities have warned about the lack of safe places for Palestinians to go even if they were to evacuate.

“Forcing more than a million displaced Palestinians from Rafah to evacuate without a safe destination is not only illegal, but would have catastrophic consequences,” Action Aid said. “Our aid workers are reporting some of the most serious conditions in recent history, with widespread disease, famine and chaos. Let’s be clear: there are no safe zones in Gaza.

“The international community must act quickly to prevent further atrocities and hold itself and the Israeli government accountable. If an invasion of Rafah is your ‘red line’, will you do everything possible to stop this impending attack?”