June 16, 2024

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The Israeli army advances on Rafah as one million Palestinians evacuate the city

The Israeli army revealed on Monday that it had successfully evacuated about 950,000 Palestinian civilians in just two weeks since May 6.

In addition, about 30-40% of Rafah is now under the control of the Israeli army, not just a small part of the eastern sector, and about 60-70% of Rafah has been completely evacuated.

The remaining Rafah civilians, estimated at 300,000-400,000, are almost all located near the Tal al-Sultan area on the Gaza coast.

This comes despite US expectations that the civilian population cannot be evacuated without a significant death toll or without leaving about four months to do so.

Among those evacuated, the overwhelming majority moved to the northwest to Al-Mawasi, while a smaller number moved to central Gaza.

A collage shows satellite views of the shelters before and after they were removed, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in central Rafah, Gaza, May 4, 2024 (top) and May 15, 2024. (Credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/HANDOUT) via Reuters)

A much smaller number have returned to Khan Yunis, although this has been discussed as a real possibility for the return of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Regarding the battle, although there was certainly significant resistance from the four Hamas brigades in Rafah, the IDF said it mostly caught them by surprise.

After an initial early and more consolidated resistance, the impression is that the Phalanx began the process of disbanding, escaping or hiding to attempt a guerrilla-style battle later.

Another possibility is that Hamas brigades will fight harder for Tel al-Sultan, but overall so far, the movement’s brigades have not fought as hard as Hamas did in the initial battles in Gaza City in October and November. Or to Khan Yunis in December.

Footage of soldiers from the IDF’s 162nd Division operating in eastern Rafah, May 20, 2024. (IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

The IDF captured most of the Philadelphia Corridor

Thereafter, the Israeli army controlled the majority, though not all, of the Philadelphia Corridor with Egypt.

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The army has already destroyed several cross-border tunnels on the corridor, the main remaining way for Hamas to receive new weapons, but it is still unsure how many tunnels remain.

In other parts of Gaza, it took months for the IDF to get a fuller picture of the tunnel challenge.

Despite Egypt’s anger at Israel over the Rafah operation and the closure of the Rafah crossing regarding humanitarian aid, the Israeli army said that military relations on the ground with Cairo remained strong, and no violent incidents occurred between the two sides.

Other than a small number, there were no Palestinians infiltrating Egypt, which was Cairo’s greatest fear.

The Israeli army said that it adhered to the understandings it reached with Egypt regarding how to implement the Rafah operation with the utmost precision.

The Israeli military is less certain than ever about Sinwar’s whereabouts

Unfortunately, the Israeli military did not provide any updates on the situation of the hostages being held in Rafah, and seemed less confident than ever about where Gaza President Yahya Sinwar was hiding.

It is also possible that Hamas transferred the hostages out of Rafah as part of the large number of civilians who fled, and the same could apply to Sinwar.

The IDF said that the Rafah operation was incredibly complex and that it achieved significant victories despite numerous restrictions on how it could fire on Hamas to avoid even the possibility of misfires on nearby Egyptian forces.

In addition, the Israeli military said it captured and destroyed a very large quantity of rockets and missile launchers in Rafah, the latter place where it said Hamas may still possess a larger quantity of rockets, including long-range rockets.

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In addition to Rafah, the Israeli army said it surprised Hamas when it re-invaded Jabalia. She said that civilians were transferred there in a much shorter time than from Rafah, with warnings issued in the morning, and the invasion beginning in the afternoon of the same day.

The Israeli army found additional tunnels in Jabalia and thwarted Hamas’ attempt to establish a new command center there for unified combat.

Unlike in Rafah, Hamas fighters in Jabalia are not seen as having much chance of escape, although the IDF has not provided a specific timeframe for ending the recent reconquest of Jabalia.

If there has been a mention for months of one or two Hamas brigades operating in central Gaza, the Israeli army has said that these brigades are also being dismantled, through a combination of air strikes and targeted incursions.

A smaller force was needed for these attacks because the central forces in Gaza were much smaller than the remaining forces in Rafah, but the bottom line is that the IDF could converge at a point where all 24 Hamas brigades are dismantled.

IDF sources indicated that this would signal the achievement of the first goal of the war, which was to overthrow Hamas as a military organization, even if other goals of the war, such as removing Hamas as a political authority and returning the hostages, may remain open questions.

According to one forecast, fighting the Hamas insurgency will require significant military resources at least until October of this year, and perhaps even somewhat later.

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