Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the army to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions.
It came hours after US President Joe Biden said he considers Israel’s conduct in the war “overblown”.
Netanyahu made the announcement today ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza city and following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the populous city on the border with Egypt.
Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and that it needs to send troops to complete its war plan against the Islamic terrorist group.
But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have crowded into the city after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
Netanyahu said today that a “massive operation” is needed in Rafah.
Netanyahu made the announcement today following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the populous city on the border with Egypt.
A photograph taken from Rafah shows smoke rising during the Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday.
He said he asked security officials to present a “double plan” that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to “collapse” Hamas’ remaining terrorist units.
Israeli airstrikes hit the central Gaza Strip and the southern city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, overnight Monday, causing nearly two dozen deaths, including women and children, witnesses and hospital officials said. .
On Thursday, Biden rebuked Netanyahu at a White House news conference as he discussed a report on his mishandling of classified documents.
He said he was trying to negotiate a longer ceasefire to bring humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza and press for the release of Hamas hostages.
“I am of the opinion, as you know, that the response in the Gaza Strip has been exaggerated,” the 81-year-old president said.
‘I am pushing hard now to address this hostage ceasefire. I have been working tirelessly on this agreement. “I think if we can get the delay, the initial delay, I think we could extend it to increase the prospects of this fighting in Gaza changing.”
Biden added that he was pushing for increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and for a temporary pause 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 this has to stop.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Israel yesterday as division grows between the two close allies on the way forward.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been expelled by Israel’s military offensive towards the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the small Palestinian territory, many live in makeshift tent camps or overflowing shelters run by the UN.
The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. A quarter of Gaza residents are dying of hunger.
The war began with Hamas’s assault on Israel on October 7, in which the terrorists killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 250. Hamas still holds more than 130 hostages, but is believed to be around 30 of them are dead.
Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also provoked an unusual public reaction in Washington.
“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said yesterday.
Going ahead with such an offensive now, “without planning and without thinking about an area where there is shelter for a million people, would be a disaster.”
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah “is not something we would support.”
Netanyahu’s announcement came hours after US President Joe Biden said he considers Israel’s conduct in the war “overblown.”
People assess the damage caused by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday.
Palestinian children wait in line to receive food prepared by volunteers for Palestinian families displaced in southern Gaza due to Israeli attacks, among the rubble of destroyed buildings in Rafah, Gaza, on Friday.
The comments signaled an intensification of US friction with Netanyahu, who pushed a message of “complete victory” in the war this week, at a time when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel to press for a ceasefire agreement in exchange for release. of dozens of hostages held by Hamas.
Aid agency officials also warned of the prospect of an offensive in Rafah. “We need to keep Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems functioning,” said Catherine Russell, head of the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket and claim more children’s lives.”
With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces are still massed in the town 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 any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year peace treaty with Israel.
The largely sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.