New Delhi: Seen as a show of defiance towards its main ally US, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday instructed the military to prepare for the evacuation of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza’s Rafah, news agency AFP reported. This directive came close on the heels of Washington cautioning against supporting any ground assault on the city.
PM Netanyahu’s move followed President Joe Biden’s stern criticism of the handling of the conflict. President Biden said that Israel’s response to Hamas’s October 7 attack had been “over the top”.
The Prime Minister directed military and security officials to present the cabinet with a comprehensive plan for evacuating the civilian population and dismantling Hamas militants entrenched in Rafah, as stated in an official statement from his office, reported AFP.
Notably, Rafah stands as the last major urban centre in Gaza that is yet to be entered by Israeli forces, serving also as the primary gateway for much-needed humanitarian aid.
According to the news agency, the influx of displaced Palestinians from other parts of Gaza has swelled Rafah’s population to an estimated 1.3 million, surpassing half of the territory’s total population of 2.4 million.
While the United States remains Israel’s primary international supporter, providing substantial military aid, the State Department clarified its stance, expressing non-support for a ground offensive in Rafah. The department also cautioned that an ill-planned operation could lead to catastrophic consequences.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving…in trouble and dying, and it’s got to stop,” AFP quoted President Joe Biden as saying.
Meanwhile, the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory reported that over 100 individuals lost their lives in overnight airstrikes, with at least eight casualties in Rafah. The Palestinian Red Crescent confirmed the deaths of three children in a strike within Rafah, where many displaced individuals are currently sheltering in tents near the Egyptian border.
Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 led to approximately 1,160 casualties in Israel, primarily civilians, as per an AFP estimate based on official Israeli data.