How Israel launched its Rafah offensive and seized key border crossing

After more than six months of war and displacement, half the population of the Gaza Strip is thought to be sheltering in Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city.

On Monday morning, Israel ordered 100,000 residents of Rafah's eastern neighbourhoods to evacuate to al Mawasi, on the Gazan coast.

An IDF spokesman indicated that this would be the first stage in a larger evacuation of the city's 1.1 million residents.

The area being evacuated includes the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings, through which the vast majority of aid enters Gaza.

The offensive has led to the closure of both crossings. The head of the UN's World Food Programme said on Monday that northern Gaza had entered "full-blown famine", and that it was only a matter of time before famine reached the south.

The evacuated area also contains Al Najjar hospital - one of Gaza's largest still-functioning medical facilities.

How the attack unfolded

The order to evacuate was first posted by the IDF on X at 7.51am local time on Monday. Footage filmed by Palestinian journalist Mahmoud Bassam shows leaflets containing the evacuation order being dropped over Rafah.

Within hours, the IDF began a series of airstrikes against what they said were more than 50 targets linked to Hamas. The Gaza health ministry said Israeli strikes across the enclave on Monday killed 54 Palestinians and wounded 96 others.

The aftermath of one strike was captured in dramatic footage, also filmed by Bassam.

Satellite imagery captured at 3pm local time shows damage to a building at the crossing. The dozens of trucks that crowded the crossing a day earlier had vanished, as had some of the tents in a nearby encampment.

On Tuesday morning, videos emerged showing Israeli armoured vehicles moving towards Rafah from the east. Sky News was able to verify and geolocate the footage.

Other vehicles were seen moving along Gaza's border with Egypt, heading towards the Rafah crossing.

The vehicle is bearing an Israeli flag, as well as a flag showing the logo of the IDF's 401st brigade - also known as the "iron tracks" brigade.

A separate video filmed from an armoured vehicle shows it approaching the Rafah crossing.

Sky News geolocated this footage to the northern section of the border road, suggesting that this one of the routes taken by Israeli forces.

Footage from the border crossing itself show Israeli armoured vehicles being used to flatten signage. Other videos show Israeli flags being raised in front of buildings at the crossing.

The tank filmed destroying signage has similar features to a Merkava Mark IV, a type of tank used by the 401st brigade.

Who are the 401st brigade?

The unit has been seen in a number of IDF videos across Gaza - including at a UNRWA site, near a hospital in Gaza city and at the site of an alleged Hamas tunnel.

It is one of three brigades that make up the IDF's armoured corps and consists mostly of Merkava Mark IV tanks.

The brigade's commander Lt. Col Benny Aharon has appeared in a number of IDF videos inside Gaza.

In February, the 401st brigade was part of an IDF targeted raid at the headquarters of UNRWA, a UN agency and the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

The 401st brigade was also part of an IDF operation at Gaza City's Rantisi hospital, where the IDF claim Hamas tunnel shafts were located in November.

Where will people go?

In order to accommodate those fleeing Rafah, Israel has expanded its "humanitarian zone" on Gaza's coast significantly, from 18.5 to 59.9 square kilometres. The expanded area was home to just 64,000 people before the war, according to the UN.

"In Al Mawasi, there is a severe lack of sufficient infrastructure, including water available, and it is not feasible to support tens of thousands of displaced people there," UNRWA spokesperson in Gaza, Louise Wateridge, said.

In a statement posted on X, the IDF's Arabic-language spokesperson said the area included "field hospitals, tents, and large quantities of food, water, medicine, and other supplies."

The US and UK governments have condemned Israel's offensive in Rafah. Egypt, which borders the city, has called on Israel to halt the operation immediately.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.