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Mapped: Where is Rafah and why is Israel invading it?

Israel has vowed to press on with a ground invasion into Rafah, Gaza, amid warnings the country would face “serious repercussions” for the offensive.

Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military to evacuate civilians from the city, which is home to 1.5million Palestinians, ahead of the invasion.

It comes as the area was hit by airstrikes overnight, with up to 67 Palestinians killed and at two Israeli hostages rescued, according to the Gazan health ministry.

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Saudi Arabia called for an immediate ceasefire and warned Israel would face serious consequences for the “storming and targeting” of the city.

But where is Rafah, and why is Israel targeting the city now? The Independent has put together answers and a map below.

Where is Rafah?

Rafah is a city in the south of Gaza near the border of Egypt. When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, now part of Egypt, it was split into a Gazan and Egyptian part.

It was initially a safe haven for people fleeing northern Gaza in the early stages of the most recent Israel-Gaza conflict, when Palestinians were ordered to evacuate ahead of heavy Israeli bombardment.

But the city is now home to around 1.3million people - more than half of Gaza’s population - and Mr Netanyahu has ordered a ground invasion of the area, where he believes Hamas operatives are hiding.

Most residents of Rafah are living in temporary structures such as tents and aid organisations have warned of a dire humanitarian situation.

A child looks at rubble after Israeli airstrikes targeted Rafah, Gaza, overnight (EPA)
A child looks at rubble after Israeli airstrikes targeted Rafah, Gaza, overnight (EPA)

Why is Israel targeting Rafah now?

The Israeli military believes Rafah is the last outpost of Hamas operatives in the entire Gaza strip, with “four Hamas battalions” hiding there.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said in response to criticism: “The United Nations and international actors now face a fateful choice. Do they want to save Hamas or save Palestinian civilians?” added Levy.

“They cannot stop Israel from dismantling the last four Hamas battalions in the Gaza Strip and securing the release of 134 remaining hostages.”

Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Richard Hecht said the operation in Rafah was very “complex”, adding: “We have been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions.”

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, another IDF spokesperson, called it “a complex rescue operation under fire in the heart of Rafah, based on highly sensitive and valuable intelligence from the Intelligence Directorate and the Israel Security Agency”.