It was established in 1949 in the form of makeshift houses with the help of the United Nations to shelter in excess of 40,000 Palestinian refugees expelled from their towns and villages in Palestine.

Location

The camp lies adjacent to the city of Rafah and is situated at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip. It is located 35km south of Gaza City.

Since its establishment, the camp has been maintained by the United Nations Refugees and Works Agency (UNRWA) which has divided it into 17 blocks.

Over the decades, its population has grown and its expanding area has been divided into several major neighbourhoods, the largest being Tal al-Sultan and Brazil.

Military target

For Palestinians, Rafah is a hub of resistance, where hundreds of people have perished throughout the years in their quest to return to their original homes, now inside Israel.

The Palestinian resistance has a
long history in the refugee camp

For Israel, the place has been fertile ground for militants and weapons smugglers.

Due to this and its proximity to Egypt and to Jewish settlements - built illegally in the Gaza Strip - the camp has been the target of major Israeli military operations. 

Since the start of al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, hundreds of Palestinian homes in Rafah have been razed by army bulldozers or damaged by the frequent heavy bombardment of the area.

The refugee camp is also remembered as the place where Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer. She was run over repeatedly as she stood in its way as she defended Palestinian homes about to be demolished.

Operation Rainbow

The most violent military campaign against Rafah, so far, started on 16 May and continued for nearly a week. It followed the killing of several Israeli soldiers in a landmine blast not very far from the so-called Philadelphi Axis, a narrow buffer zone separating Gaza from Egypt.

The ensuing Israeli military campaign, dubbed Operation Rainbow, killed scores of Palestinians and wounded hundreds more. According to hospital reports, most of those killed or wounded were unarmed civilians. Israeli military sources contest this claim.

UNRWA put the number of homes destroyed at 191, saying more than 2000 Palestinians were made homeless

UNRWA, in a subsequent report, put the number of homes destroyed at 191, saying more than 2000 Palestinians were made homeless, mostly residents of the Tal al-Sultan and Brazil neighbourhoods.  

The Israeli military said that two tunnels were discovered in the refugee camp.

Bated breath

Despite a US abstention, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1544 on 19 May - "expressing concern at the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967", and "condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians that took place in the Rafah area".

On 25 May, the international media reported that the Israeli military was easing its grip on the refugee camp.

A senior Israeli army official, however, interpreted his army's move differently in an interview with Reuters. "I don't know if I can say Operation Rainbow is over. We are taking a deep breath and this goes on."