newsIsrael at War

Rafah evacuations begin ahead of Israeli military offensive

The IDF is calling on residents of eastern neighborhoods to head to an expanded humanitarian zone at Al-Mawasi.

Nahal Brigade troops operating in central Gaza, April 24, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Nahal Brigade troops operating in central Gaza, April 24, 2024. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces is calling on residents of eastern Rafah to evacuate to humanitarian zones ahead of a major military offensive in the city, the final Hamas bastion in Gaza, the army announced on Monday morning.

The IDF has marked out two evacuation zones: An expansion of the Al-Mawasi zone along the central-southern Gazan coastline, and Khan Yunis. Monday’s message directs noncombatants to the expanded area in Al-Mawasi, which includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medicine and other supplies.

The Cabinet decided on the evacuation on Sunday night, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant informing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of the decision overnight. The area initially designated for evacuation contains around 100,000 people.

Gallant told Austin of “the many efforts that the State of Israel is making to reach an [agreement] for the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire, and said that at this stage Hamas refuses any proposal that would allow this,” according to a readout of the call provided by Gallant’s office.

The Israeli defense minister emphasized that “there was no choice left and this meant the start of the Israeli operation in Rafah.”

“Gallant thanked the secretary of defense for the close cooperation, and emphasized that the United States has an important role in advancing dialogue for the release of the hostages held captive by Hamas,” his office added.

Austin “reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages and stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid,” according to the Pentagon’s readout of the phone call.

Austin also “reiterated the United States’ commitment to supporting Israel’s defense.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday spoke by phone with President Joe Biden. According to the White House, Biden clarified his position regarding the operation in Rafah.

During the conversation, said to have lasted half an hour, Biden reportedly told Netanyahu that a hostages-for-ceasefire-and-terrorists-release deal with Hamas was the best way to avoid an invasion of Rafah.

The IDF on Monday said that it was working with international organizations and other countries to increase the level of humanitarian aid entering the Strip.

“In accordance with the approval of the political echelon, the IDF calls on the population [of Rafah], which is under the control of Hamas, to temporarily evacuate from the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah to the expanded humanitarian space. This matter will progress in a gradual manner according to ongoing situation assessments,” the IDF said.

The Israeli military said that it was conveying the evacuation message via announcements, text messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic.

IDF Arabic-language spokesman Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee tweeted an “urgent appeal” on Monday morning to residents and displaced people in the Al-Shouka municipality and the Al-Salam, Al-Jeneina and Al-Byouk neighborhoods in the Rafah area to evacuate immediately to the humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi.

“The IDF will work with extreme force against the terrorist organizations in the area where you reside, as it has done so far. Anyone who is close to terrorist organizations puts his life and the life of his family at risk,” Adraee wrote.

He warned residents not to return to areas north of Wadi Gaza, such as Gaza City, which he described as a “dangerous combat zone,” or to approach the eastern and southern security fences.

Monday’s evacuation notice comes after four IDF soldiers were killed and at least 10 others were wounded on Sunday when Hamas terrorists fired 14 mortar shells from the Rafah area of southern Gaza at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom.

The Israeli Air Force subsequently attacked Hamas targets in Rafah, in the areas from which the missiles were fired.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is currently closed to the passage of humanitarian aid trucks as a result of the attack, according to the IDF.

Jerusalem says going into Rafah is essential to winning the war, given that four of the final six Hamas battalions—composed of thousands of gunmen—are entrenched there. If the Rafah operation does not move forward, Israel has warned that Hamas will regroup and threaten Israel again. The terrorist group has pledged many repetitions of its atrocities of Oct. 7.

Washington is attempting to salvage a hostage deal as Israel readies for the Rafah invasion, with Biden dispatching CIA Director William Burns to the Middle East for emergency diplomatic shuttling to save the truce talks—meeting with fellow mediators in Cairo and then Doha before a reported visit to Jerusalem on Monday to meet with Netanyahu.

In a condolence message to the families of the soldiers killed in Sunday’s rocket attack, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned that “the delay in entering Rafah is costing us a lot of blood.”

He went on to say, “The Nazis in Gaza are counting on the continuation of the Oslo approach, and will continue to harm our soldiers and citizens. The IDF must enter Rafah today and defeat the enemy.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz also compared Hamas to the Nazis on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Our just war in Gaza continues with the exact same goals: the release of all hostages and the defeat of Hamas,” Katz tweeted. “Yesterday, we received a reminder from the Nazi terrorist organization Hamas, firing from a civilian population near the Rafah Crossing towards the Kerem Shalom Crossing, intended for humanitarian aid.”

Katz continued, “Israel has agreed to significant concessions to bring the hostages home, but Hamas has repeatedly refused.

“Everyone understands that [Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya] Sinwar has no intention of releasing all hostages, even in exchange for everything. He believes that the world will pressure Israel to stop the war unconditionally, and he will be able to continue to control Gaza—with hostages as bargaining chips and with the ability to continue the war of attrition against Israel and plan the next attack.

“Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the slogan ‘Never Again’ takes on a special meaning. The people of Israel say: ‘Never again.'”

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