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Satellite Images Show Widening Destruction in Rafah Amid Israeli Invasion

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Israeli forces appear to be pushing closer to the center of the city of Rafah, according to satellite imagery, which shows military vehicles and widespread destruction of neighborhoods more than two and a half miles into Gaza from the Israeli border, as well as Palestinians fleeing the city even outside of areas the Israeli military has said to evacuate.

Israeli troops are still on the eastern side of the city in southern Gaza, according to the imagery, captured on Wednesday by the commercial satellite company Planet Labs. But they have continued to move toward central Rafah in recent days, passing the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Salah al-Din road, Gaza’s main artery.

Collapsed buildings and debris are seen throughout this neighborhood, where only limited damage was visible before Israel started its incursion last week.

While it is not possible to know exactly what caused the damage in areas throughout Rafah, much of what is seen is consistent with the aftermath of Israeli bombardment and ground operations elsewhere in Gaza since the war began last October.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’s last stronghold, and a critical gateway for arms shipments smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. It says it is determined to make sure the militants who were behind the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel no longer pose a threat.

But Rafah has also been a refuge for more than a million Palestinians who fled Israeli bombardment in other parts of Gaza. The United Nations says that hundreds of thousands of people have fled Rafah in recent days, and the imagery indicates that large numbers of people are leaving the center of Rafah, even in areas outside of evacuation orders the Israeli military has issued for the city.

Areas of Rafah that were full of tents and vehicles just a week ago appeared empty on Wednesday.

Christoph Koettl contributed reporting.

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