Satellite images show Egypt is building a new walled buffer

Satellite images show Egypt is building a new walled buffer zone more than 3 kilometers wide on the Gaza border

Maxar Technologies

This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows Egypt building a mile-wide buffer zone and border wall along its border with Gaza.


New satellite images show Egypt building a vast, mile-wide buffer zone and wall along its border with the southern Gaza Strip, as fears grow over Israel's planned ground offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's population is seeking refuge.

Images taken by Maxar Technologies over the past five days show that a significant portion of Egyptian territory has been bulldozed between a road and the Gaza border.

If the buffer zone – which stretches from the end of the Gaza border to the Mediterranean – is completed, it will completely engulf the Egypt-Rafah border crossing complex.

At the actual border, several cranes can be seen laying sections of the wall.

Additional satellite images reviewed by CNN show that bulldozers arrived on site on February 3 and initial excavation of the buffer zone began on February 6.

There has been a significant increase in excavations in the last five days.

Videos released by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights show the construction of the border wall, which is said to be five meters high.

The organization, a non-governmental human rights group made up of activists, researchers and journalists, said two local contractors told them that the project was commissioned by the Egyptian armed forces.

CNN has reached out to the Egyptian government for comment on the buffer zone and the construction of the wall.

The construction comes at a time when fears are growing that Gaza's already dire humanitarian situation will worsen, leading to thousands of deaths and a mass exodus of Palestinians to the Egyptian border.

All eyes are on Rafah, which lies on the new buffer zone, where nearly 1.5 million Palestinians are crammed into a vast tent city.

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Despite international pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated his plans for a military ground offensive in the southern Gaza city, saying it is Hamas' “last bastion.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told CNN earlier this week that the military wants to develop a plan that will evacuate civilians “out of harm's way” and distinguish civilians from Hamas fighters. However, his evacuation plan has not yet been submitted to the government, he told CNN on Tuesday.

The city is the last remaining refuge for displaced Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and panic is growing as many decide whether to stay or leave ahead of the planned ground offensive. Families struggling with food, water and medicine shortages live in tents just meters from the barbed wire fence that separates them from Egypt. Most have migrated to Rafah after being displaced by war elsewhere in Gaza.

Rajaa Musleh, the Gaza representative of the nonprofit MedGlobal currently based in Rafah, painted a vivid picture of the situation in the besieged city, saying that health workers still alive “may still be breathing, but we are dying inside.”

“The situation we are enduring in Rafah is terrible and is getting worse day by day. We have no water to drink or eat and our health facilities can barely function,” Musleh said.

A growing number of countries and international organizations have called on Israel to avoid a ground operation in what is now the Gaza Strip's most populous city. International Committee of the Red Cross regional director Fabrizio Carboni said “countless lives are at stake.” The leaders of Australia, Canada and New Zealand warned on Thursday that such an attack “would be catastrophic.”

Egypt has already condemned Israel's move to push Palestinians in the enclave south, saying it was part of a plan to displace Gazans and that it would mean the end of the Palestinian cause. Egypt has now sounded the alarm again as Israel prepares for its military operation in Rafah.

Egypt has begun strengthening its security presence on the Gaza border as a “precautionary measure” ahead of the expected Israeli ground operation, Egyptian security officials told CNN. As part of its security measures, Egypt has deployed more troops and machinery in northern Sinai on the Gaza border, the officials said.

The checkpoints leading to the Rafah border crossing on the Egyptian side have also been fortified with more soldiers and areas around the main road are being prepared for the deployment of tanks and military machines, a witness told CNN.

It comes as Netanyahu continues to rail against Egypt for failing to close the Philadelphia Corridor – the strip of land between Egypt and Gaza and the besieged enclave's only non-Israeli-controlled border. In a press conference on January 13, Netanyahu said that Israel would not consider the war to be over until it was over.

Israel has been accused of establishing its own buffer zone, albeit within the Gaza Strip, which would effectively shrink the enclave's borders. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in a Feb. 8 statement that the IDF had destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip “located within a kilometer of the Israel-Gaza fence and the area with the “The aim was to create a ‘buffer zone’.”

“Israel has not presented any valid reasons for such extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure,” Türk continued.