Consider this from NPR: NPR

Consider this from NPR: NPR

Thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, migrated from neighborhoods east of Rafah and reached the coast of the town of Deir al-Balah.

Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

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Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

Thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, migrated from neighborhoods east of Rafah and reached the coast of the city of Deir al-Balah.

Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel took control of the Rafah border crossing. The consequences could be devastating for civilians.

Since the start of the Israeli war in Gaza, Palestinians have been pushed further and further south. At least 1.3 million people are now gathered in Rafah, a small border area with Egypt. More than half of these people have fled fighting in other parts of Gaza.

On Monday, Israeli forces dropped leaflets from the sky in Rafah ordering the population to take refuge in an “expanded humanitarian zone” to the north and northwest of the city. The UN says that now more than 75% of the Gaza Strip is under evacuation orders.

Less than 24 hours later, Israeli tanks entered the eastern part of Rafah, taking control of the Egypt-Gaza border crossing.

Israeli airstrikes had already been bombarding Rafah for weeks, killing hundreds of people since late March — most of them women and children, according to hospital records.

No help can get through and one of the region’s main medical centers has been closed. Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office, warned that if the terminal remained closed for a long period, “it would be a very effective way of putting the humanitarian operation in its grave.”

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Palestinians feel there is nowhere left to go.

The Israeli military has designated an area northwest of the Rafah evacuation zone as an “extended humanitarian zone.”

But for many Palestinians, this promise of security means nothing.

NPR spoke with several people fleeing violence in Gaza, including Fatima Balah, an elderly woman who walks with a cane. “We saw nothing but suffering,” she said.

AbdAlwahab Hamad works for a community development organization in Gaza. He spoke to NPR from Rafah, saying:

“The concept of a safe zone has become elusive for the people of Gaza. It is an illusion because it has been shattered. We are talking about 1.3 million Palestinians living in a place smaller than Heathrow Airport .(Rafah) is the last remaining sanctuary in Gaza, the last refuge.

Although the Israeli military says its troops are not advancing towards the main town of Rafah at this stage of operations, there are fears the incursion could expand.

According to James Smith, an emergency doctor in Rafah, not everyone can leave the city. Seriously ill or injured people are struggling to find care as the city’s health care system collapses.

Several small hospitals in the area have begun evacuating patients “because they are afraid of what the Israeli military might do in or around these health facilities,” Smith said.

Israeli offensive tests US support

U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Israel not to invade Rafah. In a March interview with MSNBC, President Biden even warned that this would cross a “red line.”

However, the authorities have not clarified the contours of this line. The administration maintains that the Israeli operation in Rafah has so far not crossed that line – but the latest developments in the war could lead to a turning point in US support.

The Biden administration suspended the shipment of more than 3,000 bombs to Israel last week, fearing they could be used on Rafah. A senior administration official confirmed the pause, speaking to NPR on condition of anonymity. The administration is also reviewing whether to hold back future arms shipments, the official said.

Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman said the operation “is the start of our mission to eliminate the last four Hamas brigades in Rafah. You should have no doubt about that.”

To hear more about the civilian impact of the Israeli operation in Rafah, listen to the full episode by pressing the play button at the top of the page.

This episode was produced by Jordan Marie Smith, Linah Mohammad and Connor Donevan. It was edited by Courtney Dorning and James Hider. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.