By Kyle Anzalone / Antiwar.com

As Israeli troops are expanding their operations in Rafah, civilians report food is running out, and at least 100,000 have fled the city. Al-Qassam, the armed faction of Hamas, says it has engaged the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) around the city. At least one million internally displaced Palestinians were taking refuge in Rafah before the assault began.

Georgios Petropoulos, an official for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) working in Rafah, said that 110,000 Palestinians have now fled the city. He slammed the Israeli attack for causing “even more unprecedented levels of emergency.” Rafah had a pre-war population of 250,000, but absorbing the internally displaced in Gaza has increased the population to around 1.5 million Palestinians.

Most other cities in Gaza have been reduced to rubble by the IDF, causing widespread starvation and famine in northern Gaza. While the situation in Rafah was desperate before the Israeli attack, Palestinians in the city had access to some food and other assistance.

Al-Qassam says it has inflicted some casualties on the IDF. A statement from the group claimed it killed and wounded several Israeli soldiers in a “complex and simultaneous” operation in Rafah. The IDF stated in turn it killed several Palestinian gunmen.

On Monday, the IDF seized control of the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza near Rafah. That crossing has been used to bring most aid into Gaza since October 7. Since Israel gained control of the Rafah crossing, aid trucks have been unable to deliver food and other lifesaving assistance into Gaza.

Petropoulos said the attack left the World Food Program (WFP) without a way to bring additional assistance into Gaza, and it will run out of food to distribute on Saturday. Sam Rose, an official for the UN Palestinian Aid Agency (UNRWA), explained, “No aid has come into Gaza now since Sunday. No aid, no fuel, no supplies, nothing. And we really are now down to our last reserves.”

Rose added that UNRWA’s ability to aid Palestinians is being plagued not just by a lack of food but also of water and fuel. “We have a few more days of flour that we can provide. But everything else will start to shut down very soon without fuel, without water. So the situation is really desperate,” he noted.

Hamish Young, senior emergency coordinator for the UN Aid Agency for Children (UNICEF), explained, “For five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip, and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. The lack of fuel could grind humanitarian operations to a halt.”

Palestinian doctor Mohammed Zaqout said the fighting knocked out one of Gaza’s hospitals in Rafah and severely limited the services another can provide. “Al-Najjar Hospital is out of service. And the Kuwaiti Hospital [in Rafah] is just for trauma and emergency. We have no beds, no hospitals to refer [people to], especially for critical patients,” he stated.

Washington and Tel Aviv initially indicated the operations in Rafah would be limited, and President Joe Biden gave his blessing for the attack to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call. The White House has threatened to suspend some arms shipments, specifically “large bombs,” to Israel. However, an Israeli official said Tel Aviv has all the weapons it needs to finish the job in Rafah.

On Friday, the IDF pushed into Rafah with Israeli tanks establishing control over the main road dividing the eastern and western halves of the city. While Tel Aviv ordered residents and refugees out of eastern Rafah earlier in the week, residents say the IDF is pummeling the whole city with airstrikes.

Netanyahu said Israel’s operation in Rafah will be completed, even if it means losing Biden’s support. “If we need to stand alone, we will stand alone. I have said that if necessary — we will fight with our fingernails,” he posted on X.

The White House says it opposes the operations because it does not believe attacking Rafah will lead to the defeat of Hamas. “Smashing into Rafah, in his [Biden’s] view, will not advance that objective,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

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Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is the opinion editor of Antiwar.com, news editor of the Libertarian Institute, and co-host of Conflicts of Interest.

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