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Israel has been threatening a military ground offensive against the city Rafah


Israel's prime minister has given orders to prepare for a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.


If you picture a map of Gaza, Rafah is at the very bottom, at a border crossing to Egypt. It's now the refuge for people from all over the rest of Gaza who fled Israel's offensive in recent months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told the army to prepare some kind of plan to evacuate more than 1 million civilians from Rafah, although it's not clear where they could go.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is following the story from Tel Aviv, and he joins us now. Good morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with these threats from Israel. Palestinians have been displaced multiple times over. Now a majority of residents of the strip are in this small piece of land in the southernmost part of the Palestinian territory. Why is Israel now moving into this part of Gaza?

PERALTA: Well, Israel says that it's going after Hamas. Remember, last October, Hamas launched an attack in southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people. And Israel vowed to destroy Hamas. And so far, they have swept from Gaza's north to itself. The bombing has killed some 28,000 Palestinians according to Gaza's health ministry. And in the past few days, Israel's defense minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that Rafah, a city that, as you said, is along the border with Egypt, is Hamas' final stronghold. Netanyahu was interviewed by ABC yesterday, and he reiterated that Israel was poised to launch a military operation at Rafah. Let's listen.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war, keep Hamas there.

FADEL: And part of this may have already started. We're hearing reports of airstrikes this morning and some good news about hostages taken from Israel. What are you learning?

PERALTA: So we know there's been an increase in airstrikes generally in Rafah. But the Israeli military says what happened overnight was about hostages and that the airstrikes were a diversionary tactic. The military says that they rescued two of the 136 hostages who Israel believe are still in Gaza, and they say both are in good condition. A hospital official tells NPR that at least 50 Palestinians were killed last night. NPR producer Anas Baba was on the street in Rafah. Let's listen.


ANAS BABA, BYLINE: There's a very intensive shelling all around me.


BABA: Next to my house, there is Al-Huda. Al-Huda Mosque is one of the most known mosques in all over Rafah. And it got bombed into pieces.

Could you exactly tell me your name, please?

AMZA NEDAL ABUL: Amza Nedal Abul (ph).

PERALTA: Could you tell me what's happened exactly?

ABUL: Every day, we lose everything. We lose our family. We lose our health. We lose our mosques. We lose our children and our houses. You know, where's the humanity? I want to - where's the humanity?

PERALTA: Where is the humanity? - she keeps asking. Where is the world?

FADEL: OK. So let's ask that question. Where does the world stand on this?

PERALTA: I mean, pretty much everyone - the U.S., the U.N., the EU, the U.K. - is warning Israel against moving into Rafah. And that's because Rafah is the last remaining relatively safe space for Palestinian refugees. Some 1.4 million Palestinians are now in Rafah.

I spoke to Yousef Hammash, who works for the Norwegian Refugee Council, and he describes a desperate atmosphere. To the north, you have bombing and hunger, and to the south, you have Egypt, which does not want to take refugees. So everyone feels like they've been painted into a corner, that there is nowhere to run. And if bombing begins, he says, it feels like the only choice you're left to make is how you want to die.

It's worth noting that in a phone call, President Biden cautioned Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying that any military operation in Rafah should be accompanied by a credible plan to protect civilians.

FADEL: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta, reporting from Tel Aviv. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.