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9 Feb, 2024 20:15

Israeli PM orders evacuation of last Gaza ‘safe zone’

Benjamin Netanyahu has directed his military to prepare for moving civilians out of Rafah ahead of a major ground offensive
Israeli PM orders evacuation of last Gaza ‘safe zone’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his military to make plans for evacuating over a million Palestinian civilians crowded into Rafah, the last remaining refuge for displaced residents of the war-ravaged Gaza Strip. Israeli troops are preparing to launch a massive ground offensive against Hamas fighters in the area.

Netanyahu’s office announced the directive on Friday, saying the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) needed a “combined plan” for the mass evacuation of civilians and the destruction of the last Hamas stronghold in the Palestinian enclave. “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” the statement said. “On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.”

The UN has estimated that around 1.4 million displaced Gazans have taken refuge in Rafah, located on the besieged enclave’s border with Egypt, since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. The city, which normally has a population of some 280,000, has become the last so-called “safe zone” for civilians as the IDF levels much of Gaza in its hunt for Hamas fighters.

The evacuation directive comes as the US and other allies step up pressure on West Jerusalem to reduce civilian casualties. The US State Department warned on Thursday that an Israeli military operation in Rafah without “serious planning” for protection of civilians would be disastrous. US President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday night that the IDF’s operations in Gaza had been “over the top,” marking his most pointed criticism of Israeli war tactics since the conflict began.

Biden’s administration has refused so far to press for a ceasefire in Gaza and has criticized allegations that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians. About 28,000 people have been killed in the territory since the war began, according to local health authorities. The UN has reported that 85% of the population has been displaced from their homes, and 570,000 Gazans are starving.

The war started when Hamas fighters launched surprise attacks against Israeli villages, killing more than 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza.