Israel prepares to evacuate Rafah ahead of ground invasion to ‘defeat remaining Hamas battalions’ – hours after Biden condemned the IDF’s ‘over the top’ conduct
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah in order to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions.
It came hours after US President Joe Biden said he considered Israel’s conduct in the war to be ‘over the top’.
Netanyahu made the announcement today ahead of an expected Israeli incursion into the southern Gaza town and following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border.
Netanyahu’s office said: ‘It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war to eliminate Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.
“On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires civilians to evacuate the areas of fighting.”
Netanyahu made the announcement today following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border (File photo)
A photo 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” was needed in Rafah.
He said he had asked security officials to present a “dual plan” that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to “collapse” the remaining Hamas terror units.
Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and it must send troops in to complete its war plan against the Islamic terror group.
But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have squeezed into the town after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
Israeli airstrikes hit the central Gaza Strip and the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt overnight into today, causing nearly two dozen deaths, including women and children, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Biden rebuked Netanyahu at a White House press conference Thursday while discussing 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 am of the opinion, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip was over the top,” the 81-year-old president said.
‘I am now pushing very hard to deal with this hostage standoff. I have worked tirelessly on this deal.
“I think if we can get the delay, the initial delay, I think we will be able to extend it so that we can increase the prospect of this fighting in Gaza changing.”
Biden added he was pushing for increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and for 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 this has to stop.’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Israel yesterday as the rift between the two close allies widens going forward.
He was visiting to press for a ceasefire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been driven by Israel’s military offensive to the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the small Palestinian territory, many live in makeshift tent camps or overcrowded UN-run shelters.
The Palestinian death toll from the war has exceeded 27,840 people, the health ministry in Gaza said. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving.
The war began with Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, in which terrorists killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped around 250. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.
Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive into Rafah also caused an unusual public backlash in Washington.
“We have not yet seen any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” Vedant Patel, a spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday.
To go ahead with such an offensive now, ‘with no planning and little thought in an area sheltering a million people, would be a disaster.’
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah was ‘not something we would support.’
Netanyahu’s announcement comes hours after US President Joe Biden said he considered 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 after Israeli bombardment of a position at the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah on Friday
Palestinian children wait in line to receive food prepared by volunteers for Palestinian families displaced to Southern Gaza due to Israeli attacks on Friday, amid rubble of destroyed buildings in Rafah, Gaza.
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp at the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Thursday.
The comments signal growing US friction with Netanyahu, who this week delivered a message of “total victory” in the war.
Aid agency officials have also warned of the prospect of a Rafah offensive.
“We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to remain functional,” said Catherine Russell, head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
“Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket and take more children’s lives.”
With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces continue to focus on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Netanyahu has repeatedly said Rafah will be next, causing panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
Netanyahu’s words also upset Egypt, which said 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.