On Friday, Netanyahu announced he had ordered defense forces to “submit to the cabinet a dual plan for both evacuating the population and bringing down the battalions” ahead of an “intensive operation.”
“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leave four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” his office said.
Netanyahu’s plans raised alarm among aid agencies and world leaders alike, who fear the consequences of a ground assault on a city already overcrowded with civilians.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Washington would not support Israel’s assault on Rafah, warning that a military operation would be a “disaster” for civilians there.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed similar sentiments, saying that an operation in Rafah would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.”
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said the indications that Israel is preparing a military offensive on Rafah “are alarming.” He added in a post on X that it would have “catastrophic consequences, worsening the already dire humanitarian situation and the unbearable civilian toll.”
Over 27,000 Palestinians have so far been killed by Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry, with millions more displaced and facing famine and disease.