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Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs

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Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs
News

News

Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs

2024-04-22 12:23 Last Updated At:12:51

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s fledgling president got a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum that he touted as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

An official quick count showed that Ecuadorians overwhelmingly voted “yes” to all nine questions focused on tightening security measures, rejecting only two more controversial economic proposals.

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A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s fledgling president got a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum that he touted as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

The quick count was announced by the head of the Electoral National Council, Diana Atamaint. It confirmed a private exit poll released hours before that indicated a resounding victory and sign of support for President Daniel Noboa, the scion of a wealthy banana exporting family.

Among the measures approved are President Noboa's call to deploy the army in the fight against the gangs, to loosen obstacles for extraditing accused criminals and to lengthen prison sentences for convicted drug traffickers.

Ecuador was traditionally one of South America's most peaceful countries, but it has been rocked in recent years by a wave of violence, much of it spilling over from neighboring Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine. Last year, the country's homicide rate shot up to 40 deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the region.

Noboa has rallied popular support by confronting the gangs head on. That task became more urgent in January when masked gunmen, some on orders from imprisoned drug traffickers, terrorized residents and took control of a television station while it was live on the air in an unprecedented show of force.

Following the rampage, the 36-year-old president decreed an “internal armed conflict,” enabling him to use emergency powers to deploy the army in pursuit of about 20 gangs now classified as “terrorists.”

The referendum, in which more than 13 million Ecuadorians were called to vote, contained measures to extend those powers and put them on firmer legal ground.

For some analysts, the Ecuadorian leader must show results to live up to people’s support.

“This gives him some vigor,” said Andrea Endara, analyst and professor at Casa Grande University. But “if the president does not begin to take actions to demonstrate that having voted ‘yes’ brings results to reduce insecurity, this support will quickly be diluted.”

Some of the measures approved imply changes to Ecuador's constitution, but because they were previously endorsed by the Constitutional Court, Noboa only needs to publish them in the official gazette to go into effect. Some of those initiatives are the ones related to the use of the army and extradition.

For the changes that require changing some general laws, the president will have to send a reform proposal to the Assembly, which will have 60 days to process them.

Noboa, ahead of the final tally, celebrated the results. “We've defended the country,” he said in a message posted on social media. “Now we will have more tools to fight against the delinquent and restore peace to Ecuador's families.”

Noboa's law and order rhetoric recalls the policies of El Salvador's wildly popular president, Nayib Bukele, a fellow millennial, and could give him a boost politically as he prepares to run for reelection next year.

Noboa, is serving the final 18 months of a presidential term left vacant when fellow conservative Guillermo Lasso resigned amid a congressional investigation into allegations of corruption. Noboa was elected following a shortened but bloody campaign that saw one of his top rivals brazenly assassinated while campaigning.

“We can’t live in fear of leaving our homes,” Leonor Sandoval, a 39-year-old homemaker, said after voting for all 11 of the proposals.

A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Newly-released satellite photos reviewed by the Associated Press show a large exodus of Palestinians from the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah earlier this month ahead of a feared Israeli ground invasion there.

The photos taken three days apart — first on May 5 and then on May 8 — show the change on the ground after Israel issued its first evacuation order for the city on May 6.

They show that crowded tent camps in the central and northwest regions of the city grew sparse within days of the order.

One pair of before-and-after photos shows an area near the Tel al-Sultan refugee camp, one of the camps built for families displaced during the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

In the three days between the photos, at least half of the hundreds of tents cramming the area disappeared, likely from Palestinians packing up and departing.

The other pair of photos shows the central Ash Shabourah neighborhood of Rafah city. Tents packing city streets give way to sandy patches.

The departures come as Israel threatens a full-blown invasion of the city, which has stirred global alarm. Before the evacuation orders, some 1.3 million Palestinians — many already displaced from other parts of Gaza — had taken shelter there, according to the UN.

It was unclear where all the Palestinians packing up their tents and fleeing Rafah are going. Rights groups say there is nowhere in Gaza with nearly enough food, water or tents for the newly displaced masses. The zone where Israel has directed Palestinians is an already-packed area that residents say is little more than a squalid makeshift tent camp.

Israel's military told reporters Monday that 900,000 Palestinians had left Rafah. Scott Anderson, the director of UNRWA's operations in Gaza, said the figure was feasible, adding that the UN's Sunday count was 800,000.

Israel has so far classified its operations in the city as limited in scope, a claim the U.S. has echoed. But Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch, said the mass displacement showed a different reality on the ground and called on the international community to stop Israel's threatened offensive.

“We have a situation today where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have again been displaced from their homes, terrified, having no place to go,” he said.

Israel's military said Monday the war would likely last another six months. The statement came as ceasefire talks seemed frozen, with international mediators who had hoped to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas reportedly growing frustrated with the bitter enemies' intransigence.

The war began after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis. Israel's Gaza offensive killed around 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Hamas-led Gaza, and displaced three-fourths of the strip's population.

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an camp before its mass evacuation in Rafah, Gaza, May 5, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an camp before its mass evacuation in Rafah, Gaza, May 5, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an evacuated camp in Rafah, Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an evacuated camp in Rafah, Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an camp before its mass evacuation in Rafah, Gaza, May 5, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an camp before its mass evacuation in Rafah, Gaza, May 5, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an evacuated camp in Rafah, Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows an evacuated camp in Rafah, Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

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