Satellite images show significant growth in tent housing around Gaza border city

Over a million people are now sheltering in Rafah, according to aid groups.

February 8, 2024, 3:46 PM

The number of tents housing internally displaced people in the southern Gaza border town of Rafah has grown significantly over the past few weeks, according to an ABC News review of satellite images.

Two photos, taken by Planet Labs on Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, reveal the growing number of tents in just one small area outside of Rafah.

Rafah's population has grown amid intense fighting and expanding evacuation orders to the north in the past few weeks. International aid organizations tracking the increase in internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rafah have warned about the potential humanitarian consequences of a threatened incursion by the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had told the IDF "to prepare to act" in the southern city which he said was among "the last remaining strongholds of Hamas" in remarks on Wednesday.

PHOTO: Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip,  Feb. 8, 2024.
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 8, 2024.
Fatima Shbair/AP

Rafah, the site of the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, has grown in importance as a refuge for Gaza residents fleeing fighting elsewhere in the enclave. It is seen as one of the last safe places to go in Gaza by many now sheltering there amid the ongoing conflict.

The city's population has increased five-fold since Hamas' terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the initiation of hostilities in Gaza.

At least 27,840 people have been killed and 67,317 have been injured in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Some 1.4 million Palestinians, or about two-thirds of Gaza's population, are sheltering in the area, according to a statement Wednesday from the Norwegian Refugee Council.

A review of the conditions in some Rafah shelters revealed issues like a lack of drinking water and the spread of several infectious diseases, according to the NRC.

"Conditions in Rafah are already dire, and a full-scale Israeli military operation will lead to even more loss of civilian life," Angelita Caredda, the NRC's director for the region, said in the statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday that any Israeli military operation "needs to put civilians first and foremost in mind," adding that that was especially true concerning Rafah due to the number of people sheltering there at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Gaza residents taking refuge in Rafah have described the city as their last option in interviews with ABC News.

Feryal Mahmoud Al-Najjar said he and his family had been displaced multiple times by fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

"Then we came here, to the end of the world, at the Egyptian border, in the end we don't know where to go," he said.

While Rafah has been described as a last refuge and so far has not seen an Israeli ground incursion, the city has not been spared from aerial bombardment so far.

The International Rescue Committee said on Wednesday that in the two days prior, at least 11 people, two of them children, had been killed by airstrikes on residential areas.

ABC News' Victoria Beaule, Samy Zyara, and Helena Skinner contributed to this report.

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