Monday, March 4, 2024

Israeli PM directs military to draw up plan to evacuate one million Gazans from Rafah as offensive looms

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed the Israeli military to plan for the “evacuation of the population” from Rafah, his office announced in a statement on Friday, ahead of an anticipated ground assault on the southern Gaza city. Around 28,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in Israel's offensive against Gaza.

More than 1.3 million people are believed to be in Rafah, the majority displaced from other parts of Gaza, according to the United Nations.

Netanyahu on Thursday said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would “soon go into Rafah, Hamas’s last bastion”.

Many Palestinians have trekked through the enclave and taken refuge in the city as the IDF’s campaign has moved south through Gaza.

But it is unclear where next they could go; the city borders Egypt to the south, but the border into the country has been closed for months.

In the statement, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced that it was not possible to both eliminate Hamas and leave “four Hamas battalions in Rafah.”

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

“That is why the Prime Minister directed the IDF and the defense establishment to bring to the Cabinet a dual plan for both the evacuation of the population and the disbanding of the battalions,” it added.

Rafah is the last major population center in Gaza not occupied by the IDF.

It has rapidly become home to a huge population of displaced Palestinians. Satellite images showed this week how a tent city in Rafah has swelled in size in just a few weeks, as more Gazans descend on the area to escape the IDF’s campaign.

In a statement Friday, the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the plan for military escalation and called a potential evacuation a “real threat” and “dangerous prelude” to the Israeli displacement of Palestinian people from their land.

“The time has come for everyone to bear their responsibility in the face of creating another catastrophe that will push the entire region into endless wars,” the statement read.

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said Friday that the organization was “extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah” adding that the unprecedented density of Rafah’s population makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks.

Speaking at his daily news briefing in New York, Dujarric stated people “need to be protected”, but added, the UN also “does not want to see any forced mass displacement of people, which is by definition against their will”.

As civilians brace themselves for a potentially imminent Israeli incursion into the border city of Rafah, several non-governmental organizations have issued warnings about the humanitarian consequences for the city.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard has stated that Palestinians in Gaza must be protected against potential acts of genocide as Israel prepares for an assault on Rafah, which is packed full with more than one million displaced people.

“Evacuation?? BUT WHERE? There is nowhere to go to,” Callamard said in a social media post.

“Amnesty is reiterating that Palestinians in Gaza are at grave risk of genocide. The international community has an obligation to act to prevent genocide,” she added.

International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has said that forcing hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians out of Rafah would place Palestinians in danger. The organisation also noted that the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel prevent genocide in Gaza.

“Forcing 1 million+ displaced Palestinians in Rafah to again evacuate would be unlawful & have catastrophic consequences, says @hrw,” Omar Shakir, HRW director for Israel and Palestine, said in a social media post.

“There’s nowhere safe to go in Gaza. The ICJ has ordered Israel to prevent genocide. The [international] community should act to prevent further atrocities.”

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