Where is Rafah, the city in Gaza which is the latest to be targeted by Israel forces? Why is Rafah being targeted by Benjamin Netanyahu?

Rafah is housing more than half of Gaza’s population – and has been described by Israel as the last remaining Hamas stronghold amid discussion around a ground offensive

Israel has rescued two hostages taken by Hamas militants four months ago, following an assault on the Gazan city of Rafah.

The Gazan health ministry says 67 Palestinians were killed in overnight air strikes on the city. The foreign ministry of the Palestinian Authority's West Bank has condemned what it called an Israeli "massacre" in Rafah.

Where is Rafah?

Palestinian children take pictures next to the rubble of damaged buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip.Palestinian children take pictures next to the rubble of damaged buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinian children take pictures next to the rubble of damaged buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip.
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Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, is located on the Egyptian border.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, now part of Egypt, in 1982, Rafah was split into a Gazan part and an Egyptian part, dividing families, separated by barbed-wire barriers.

Initially a safe haven for people from northern Gaza, where people were told to evacuate early in the conflict ahead of Israeli bombardments, the city is now home to around 1.3 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population. Its population before the conflict began was just 250,000.

Most of the residents are living in temporary structures such as tents and aid organisations have warned of a dire humanitarian situation.

The border point is the only one from Gaza that crosses into a country other than Israel and was used last year by citizens of other countries, including those from the UK who had been trapped. These British citizens were eventually allowed to leave the conflict zone. The border point is also where all humanitarian aid crosses into Gaza.

The city has been home to a large refugee camp since 1949 and was badly damaged in the 2008 Gaza War.

Has Rafah been a key target throughout the conflict?

The city has seen a modest amount of conflict over the past four months. However, bombardments began in earnest on Sunday night, when air strikes were used by the Israeli military as a cover to rescue two hostages, who were being held in a building in the city.

Israel says four key Hamas battalions are deployed in Rafah. Some experts have warned the Israeli army could be planning a ground incursion.

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The city was regarded as a comparative safe haven compared to other parts of Gaza, which have been targeted earlier by Israel and populations told to evacuate to the south.

What has been the international reaction to a potential invasion of Rafah?

The international community has called for Israel to consider the vulnerable civilian population in Rafah, with some governments and organisations demanding a ceasefire.

US president Joe Biden told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that protection was needed for Palestinians seeking shelter and called for “urgent and specific” steps on humanitarian aid.

However, Mr Netanyahu has pledged he will continue with the bombardment. "We're going to do it … victory is within reach," he has said.

How dire is the situation for civilians in Gaza?

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, has warned the unprecedented population density in Rafah in southern Gaza makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks.

In the past three months, Rafah has produced the equivalent of a year’s worth of rubbish, according to municipal authorities. Health authorities have warned the scarcity of food, clean water, health services and sanitation facilities have led to the outbreak of preventable diseases as well as deaths.

The UN has estimated about 100,000 families in Gaza need shelter support, including tents for winter weather and other supplies.

Who are the hostages who have been released? Are more hostages still in Rafah?

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Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were rescued from Rafah. The pair, who are brothers-in-law and who were taken from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz on October 7, are said by Israeli authorities to be in "good medical condition".

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces broke into a building "in the heart of Rafah". The two men were found on the second floor, being held by armed Hamas members in an apartment.

The Israeli military said the operation had been planned for some time. It is not known whether other Israeli hostages are still in Rafah. However, of the around 240 hostages taken by Hamas militants, more than half are still unaccounted for.



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