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Israel PM orders evacuation of Rafah ahead of ground assault

February 9, 2024 at 4:41 pm

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv on December 24, 2023 [OHAD ZWIGENBERG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today ordered occupation forces to draw up a dual plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians from the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah and defeat Hamas, Reuters reports.

His office announced the move as pressure mounted on Israel over its threat to launch a ground assault on Rafah, where more than half of the two million displaced Palestinians have now taken refuge, many of them penned up against the border fence with Egypt and living in makeshift tents.

Israel's Netanyahu vows to continue Gaza war - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor] 

Israel’s Netanyahu vows to continue Gaza war – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

US President Joe Biden said yesterday Israel’s response to the 7 October attacks by the Palestinian resistance was “over the top” and Washington said it would not support any military operation launched in Rafah without due consideration for civilians.

Aid groups said there would be a high Palestinian death toll if Israeli forces stormed Rafah, and warned of the growing humanitarian crisis in the city which lies on the border with Egypt.

“It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war without eliminating Hamas, and by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah. On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

“Therefore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the IDF [Israeli army] and the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions.”

The statement, issued two days after Netanyahu rejected a Hamas ceasefire proposal that also envisaged the release of prisoners of war held by the Palestinian group, gave no further details.

Rafah has increasingly become the focus of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza as its forces shift their offensive southwards.

“No war can be allowed in a gigantic refugee camp,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warning of a “bloodbath” if Israeli operations expand there.

READ: Israel defies World Court’s orders to prevent genocide