Israeli airstrikes killed at least 31 Palestinians Saturday in Rafah, the southern city of Gaza, a densely populated area that now serves as the largest refugee camp for Palestinians fleeing the war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide details or a timeline, but announced he had asked the military to plan for an evacuation of the more than 1 million people there ahead of a ground invasion. The announcement set off widespread panic, The Associated Press reported.
Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah, which is situated at the border with Egypt. It is the last designated safe zone in Gaza, and Israel claims it is the last remaining stronghold for militant group Hamas.
Several people have been killed since strikes began in Rafah, even as the Biden administration and aid agencies have warned Israel to not expand its ground offensive there, since so many refugees are sheltering in the city.
President Biden’s warning have become more urgent as tensions rise in the Middle East since the war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas entered Israel in a surprise attack that killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 people hostage. Since then, Israel has launched a counteroffensive that has killed more than 28,000 people.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that a ground offensive in Rafah would have “disastrous consequences” and alleged that Israel plans to eventually force Palestinians out of their land entirely, The AP reported.
The bodies of 117 people who were killed in Israeli airstrikes were brought to hospitals, raising the total death toll for the war to 28,064, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Most of the people killed so far have been women and children, The AP reported.