From 200K to 1.5M people: Startling images show war’s impact on a small area of Gaza

Israel has identified the southern Gaza city of Rafah as the next target in its military offensive against Hamas.

Rafah, which borders Egypt, is normally home to 280,000 people. But its population has swelled to over 1.5 million – roughly three-quarters of Gaza’s population — as Palestinians flee fighting, destruction and hunger elsewhere in the territory. Sprawling tent camps now dot the city.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC taken three months apart and analyzed by The Associated Press capture the massive population shift since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war.

They show an area near the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp on Oct. 13, 2023, the war’s sixth day, and Jan. 14 of this year. In what was once scrubland near farm fields, the newer image shows a tent city. Hundreds of makeshift shelters surround a warehouse that is a distribution center for the limited aid now entering the besieged Gaza Strip.

The area surveyed in both photos is part of the wider Rafah refugee camp, one of eight urban camps in the Gaza Strip that were built for families displaced during the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

The U.S. and other members of the international community have raised concerns about the safety of civilians if Israeli troops move into Rafah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he had ordered the military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians from the packed city before an expected Israeli ground invasion.

Israeli airstrikes hit central Gaza and Rafah overnight into Friday, killing nearly two dozen people including women and children, witnesses and hospital officials said.

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