Satellite images show growing destruction in Rafah amid the Israeli invasion

Israeli forces appear to be closing in on the center of Rafah city, according to satellite images, which show 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 cities even outside the areas the Israeli army said to evacuate.

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

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

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

Israel says Rafah is Hamas' last stronghold and a key gateway for arms shipments smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. He says he is determined to ensure that the militants who were behind the October 7 attacks on Israel no longer pose a threat.

But Rafah has also been a refuge for more than a million Palestinians who have fled Israeli bombing elsewhere in Gaza. The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have fled Rafah in recent days, and images indicate that large numbers of people are leaving central Rafah, including in areas outside of evacuation orders issued by the Israeli military for the city.

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

Christoph Koettl contributed to the reporting.

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