An NBC News investigation found Palestinians were killed in areas of southern Gaza designated as safe zones by the Israeli military. The attacks took place from January to April, as Israel bombarded Rafah and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government signaled its intent to launch a full-scale ground invasion on Gaza’s southernmost city, now home to over 1 million people.

NBC News camera crews filmed the consequences of six strikes on Rafah and one strike on the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone, also designated safe by Israel.

The crews compiled GPS coordinates for each strike, all of which hit areas identified by the Israeli military as evacuation zones in an online interactive map published on December 1. The map has not been updated since then, and the Israel Defense Forces told NBC News it remained accurate.

Israeli airstrikes hitting areas in Gaza (Credits: NBC News)

International aid agencies and Gazans have called the map confusing and difficult to read. Regular cellular and internet blackouts since the start of the war would have made it difficult for civilians to access it.

Sari Bashi, Human Rights Watch‘s program director, said the incidents highlighted in NBC News’ investigation are not isolated. “People are fleeing to roads that the government told them to use to places where the Israeli government told them to go,” said Bashi. “And when they go there, they get killed.”

On December 18, the IDF dropped leaflets identifying Rafah’s Tal Al Sultan and Al Zuhur neighborhoods, as well as Al Shaboura, home to a large refugee camp, as safe zones.

NBC News found that airstrikes have hit all three locations since then. Israeli officials have repeatedly said Hamas uses hostages and civilians as human shields. Netanyahu has promised to invade Rafah to ensure “the destruction or elimination” of Hamas.

NBC News found that Rafah’s Tal Al Sultan neighborhood was targeted less than a month after being designated safe. Relatives said 15 people died in a strike on the Nofal family home. A strike hit the Al Shaboura refugee camp on February 12, killing dozens, including women and children.

Israel-Hamas war updates (Credits: Reuters)

A building in Al Shaboura was leveled by an air attack on April 20, killing Sabreen Sakani, who was 30 weeks pregnant. Her baby was born an orphan after doctors performed a posthumous cesarean section.

Areas publicly stated to be safe by senior Israeli officials were also bombed. On November 4, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promised no attacks on Al-Mawasi, a narrow strip of beachside land in Khan Younis.

But Israeli forces repeatedly launched strikes on the area, killing 14 people, including three children, on January 4. “If Al-Mawasi is not safe, where should we go? No one is protecting us,” said Kamal Saleh, who witnessed the strike.