Israeli PM Says IDF Must Operate In Rafah, But Will Let Civilians Evacuate First

Amid US alarm, Netanyahu says it’s ‘impossible to achieve war goal and leave 4 Hamas battalions’ in southern Gaza city; Sinwar ‘out of contact’ for 10 days; numerous gunmen killed

Feb. 10, 2024, 9:10 a.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Friday that the over one million civilians who have crowded into the southern Gaza city of Rafah will be able to evacuate before the Israel Defense Forces begins operating there.

The statement came amid US statements that Israel has not conducted the pre-operational planning necessary to ensure that civilians will be kept out of harm’s way and that failure to do so risks “disaster.”

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that he had instructed the IDF and defense establishment to present the cabinet with plans for both the evacuation of the Palestinian civilian population from the southern Gaza Strip and the dismantlement of Hamas’s battalions in the Rafah area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Friday that the over one million civilians who have crowded into the southern Gaza city of Rafah will be able to evacuate before the Israel Defense Forces begins operating there.

The statement came amid US statements that Israel has not conducted the pre-operational planning necessary to ensure that civilians will be kept out of harm’s way and that failure to do so risks “disaster.”

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that he had instructed the IDF and defense establishment to present the cabinet with plans for both the evacuation of the Palestinian civilian population from the southern Gaza Strip and the dismantlement of Hamas’s battalions in the Rafah area.

“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leave four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” the statement said.

“On the other hand, it is clear that a massive operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from the combat zones,” it added.

More than 1.3 million Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering in the Rafah area, after the IDF issued evacuation warnings from northern Gaza and other areas in the Strip amid its ground offensive against Hamas. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing UN-run shelters.

“There is a sense of growing anxiety, growing panic in Rafah because basically people have no idea where to go,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said Friday.

The Palestinian presidency said what it called Netanyahu’s plans for a military escalation in Rafah aimed to displace the Palestinian people from their land.

“Taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines,” said the office of Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu this week rejected a ceasefire proposal from Hamas, saying its demands were “delusional,” after the terror group proposed a truce plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month ceasefire during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war. The Hamas proposal would have seen Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza with the terror group still intact ruling the Strip, as well as the release of 1,500 prisoners from Israeli jails, a third of whom are serving life sentences. It made other various demands of Israel.

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