The international community, including the United States, has expressed worries about the plan by Israel to attack Rafah to eliminate remnants of Hamas, a move that will put the lives of over 1.5 million refugees at risk.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the military to prepare to evacuate civilians from the southern Gazan city of Rafah ahead of an expanded offensive against Hamas. Most of the people in Rafah were displaced by fighting in other parts of Gaza and were living in tents.
The US has earlier warned Israel that an unplanned invasion of Rafah would be a “disaster” even as Aid groups said it was not possible to evacuate everyone from the city.
Netanyahu told military and security officials to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas, his office said on Friday.
“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,” the statement added.
Earlier this week, PM Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah and that “total victory” by Israel over Hamas was just months away. The Prime Minister had rejected Hamas’s latest proposed ceasefire terms.
But the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned that expanding the conflict into Rafah would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare” in the city.
While the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said there was “a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah”.
“People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah,” Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jerusalem.
“Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that’s unfolding.”
Israeli airstrikes on Gaza on Friday reportedly killed at least 15 people including eight in Rafah, officials from the Hamas-run health ministry said. Israel has not made any comment on this.
The war was triggered by the killing 1,200 Israeli citizens and other nationals when Hamas attacked southern Israel on 7 October, according to Israeli officials. Over 200 others were taken into captivity by Hamas.
Hamas–run ministry of health said that so far 27,900 Palestinians have been killed and at least 67,000 injured by the war launched by Israel. Israel has however claimed that most of those killed have been Hamas militants.