Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions.
It came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden said that he considers Israel’s conduct in the war to be ‘over the top’.
Netanyahu made the announcement today ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza town.
‘It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,’ Netanyahu’s office said.
‘On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.’
Netanyahu made the announcement today following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border (File Photo)
A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday
Netanyahu said today that a ‘massive operation’ is needed in Rafah.
He said he asked security officials to present a ‘double plan’ that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to ‘collapse’ remaining Hamas terrorist units.
Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and it needs to send in troops to complete its war plan against the Islamic terrorist group.
But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have crammed into the town after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
Israeli airstrikes struck the central Gaza Strip and the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt overnight into today, causing nearly two dozen fatalities including women and children, witnesses and hospital officials said.
On Thursday, Biden rebuked Netanyahu at a press conference at the White House as he discussed a report on his mishandling of classified documents.
He said he was trying to broker a longer ceasefire to get humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, and push for the release of Hamas hostages.
‘I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,’ the 81-year-old President said.
‘I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire. I’ve been working tirelessly on this deal.
‘I think if we can get the delay, the initial delay, I think we would be able to extend that so that we could increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes.’
Biden added he was pushing for increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and to get a temporary pause in place to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.
He said: ‘There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop.’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Israel yesterday as the divide grows between the two close allies on the way forward.
He was visiting to press for a cease-fire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of Hamas-held hostages.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been driven by Israel’s military offensive toward the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing U.N.-run shelters.
The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving.
The war began with Hamas’s assault into Israel on October 7, in which terrorists killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.
Netanyahu’s announcement came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden said that he considers Israel’s conduct in the war to be ‘over the top’
People assess the damage caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday
Smoke rises following Israeli bombardment on a position by the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah on Friday
Palestinians children wait in line to receive food prepared by volunteers for Palestinian families displaced to Southern Gaza due to Israeli attacks, between rubbles of destroyed buildings in Rafah, Gaza on Friday
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp at the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Thursday
Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also prompted an unusual public backlash in Washington.
‘We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,’ Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said yesterday.
Going ahead with such an offensive now, ‘with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster’.
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, said an Israel ground offensive in Rafah is ‘not something we would support’.
The comments signalled intensifying U.S. friction with Netanyahu, who pushed a message of ‘total victory’ in the war this week.
Aid agency officials also sounded warnings over the prospect of a Rafah offensive.
‘We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional,’ said Catherine Russell, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
‘Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.’
With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces are still focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Netanyahu has repeatedly said Rafah will be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
Netanyahu’s words have also alarmed Egypt, which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel.
The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.