Home World News Israel Begins Evacuating Parts Of Rafah Before Possible Offensive

Israel Begins Evacuating Parts Of Rafah Before Possible Offensive


Israel urged its civilians to evacuate parts of Rafah in what seemed as a preparation for a long-threatened assault on Hamas holdouts in the southern Gaza Strip city where more than a million war-displaced Palestinians have been sheltering.

Witnesses said some Palestinian families trudged out under chilly spring rain, instructed by Arabic text messages, telephone calls, and flyers to move to an “expanded humanitarian zone”, as called by the Israeli military, 20 km away. Israel’s military said it had begun encouraging residents of Rafah to evacuate in a ‘limited scope’ operation. Neither it gave any specific reasons, nor did it say if any offensive action might follow.

The Israeli military has called on Palestinians in eastern parts of Rafah to move to a nearby “humanitarian area”, saying it would “encourage … the gradual movement of civilians in the specified areas”. An Israeli broadcaster, Army Radio, said evacuations were centred on a few outlying districts of Rafah, from which evacuees would be sent to tent cities in nearby Khan Younis and Al Muwassi. Many residents in Rafah said they had received telephone calls to evacuate their homes in the targeted areas, in line with the army announcement.

Israel has been threatening to launch incursions in Rafah, seven months into its war against Hamas, which it claims harbours thousands of Hamas fighters and possibly dozens of hostages. Victory is impossible without taking Rafah, it believes. The prospect of a high-casualty operation worries Western powers and neighbouring Egypt, which is trying to mediate a new round of peace talks between Israel and Hamas under which the Palestinian Islamist group might free some hostages. The Rafah plan has opened a strange public rift between Israel and Washington. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, while speaking to his US counterpart, linked the latest operation to the impasse in indirect diplomacy, which he blamed on Hamas.

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The Israeli Defence Ministry said in a statement: “During their discussion, Gallant discussed the efforts undertaken to achieve the release of hostages and indicated that at this stage, Hamas refuses the frameworks at hand. Gallant emphasized that military action is required, including in the area of Rafah, at the lack of an alternative”.

In an overnight aerial attack on Rafah, Israeli planes had hit 10 houses, killing 20 people and wounding several, medical officials said.

(With inputs from Reuters)