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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu orders Rafah 'evacuation' plan

Published February 9, 2024last updated February 9, 2024

Amid concerns from the US and UN, Israeli forces in Gaza were instructed to submit a plan for evacuating civilians ahead of a planned military operation. DW has the latest.

An old man walks through rubble in Rafah
Israeli forces have been increasing attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah in recent daysImage: Said Khatib/AFP
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Israeli prime minister instructs military to submit action plan for Rafah assault 
  • UN experts believe undercover West Bank hospital killings could be war crime
  • Biden calls Israel's military action 'over the top'
  • US airstrikes target Houthis in Yemen
Skip next section UN warns against 'displacement' in Gaza
February 9, 2024

UN warns against 'displacement' in Gaza

As Israel draws up its plan for military operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the UN has said it is "extremely worried" about the fate of civilians there.

"What is clear is that people need to be protected, but we also do not want to see any forced mass displacement of people, which is by definition against their will," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

Over 1 million people are sheltering in Rafah, as Israel's ongoing ground offensive against Hamas militants has pushed people from population centers in the north near Gaza City southwards to the Egyptian border.

Israeli army in Gaza presses south toward Rafah

"The unprecedented density of Rafah's population makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Friday.

"The congestion in Rafah has reached a point where normal routes are blocked by tents set up by families seeking any flat, clean space available."

Egypt has already expressed concern that Palestinians would forced across the border.

In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel must take full control of the roughly 14-kilometer long Gaza Strip border corridor with Egypt to ensure a "demilitarization" of the area.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said "there is a sense of growing anxiety, growing panic in Rafah because basically people have no idea where to go."

Skip next section Palestinian Authority condemns planned Rafah offensive
February 9, 2024

Palestinian Authority condemns planned Rafah offensive

The office of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, which maintains partial rule in the occupied West Bank, has condemned plans for an Israeli offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

"Taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines," a statement said.

Earlier Friday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had instructed the military to prepare a plan for evacuating Palestinian civilians from the southern Gazan city, while at the same time eliminating the remaining Hamas militant battalions located there.

It was not made immediately clear to where the civilians would be evacuated.

Abbas' office also claimed Israel intends to displace the Palestinian people from Gaza.

Netanyahu has previously stated that Israel's interest is to eliminate Hamas from Gaza. He has said it does not seek to displace Palestinians from the enclave, and has no plans for long term occupation or governance of Gaza.

Hamas is listed as a terror organization by Israel, the US, Germany and several other governments. 

Rafah, on the Egyptian border, is the furthest point south for Gazan civilians to evacuate as Israel continues its offensive against the Hamas militant group.

Over 1 million people are said to be sheltering there. The US warned yesterday that a military operation in the city without due planning for civilians would be a "disaster."

US warns Israel over planned ground offensive in Rafah

Skip next section UN rights experts say West Bank hospital killings could be war crime
February 9, 2024

UN rights experts say West Bank hospital killings could be war crime

A group of UN experts on Friday said an undercover Israeli military operation at a hospital in the occupied West Bank that killed three alleged Palestinian militants could be considered a war crime.

On January 29, three Palestinian men were killed at the Ibn Sina hospital in the restive city of Jenin by Israeli commandos disguised as medical workers and Muslim women.

Israel maintains the three men were part of a terrorist cell and were planning an imminent attack.

The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, said in a statement that "under international humanitarian law, killing a defenseless injured patient who is being treated in a hospital amounts to a war crime." One of the men killed was being treated for injuries received during an Israeli airstrike, it said.

"By disguising themselves as seemingly harmless, protected medical personnel and civilians, the Israeli forces also prima facie committed the war crime of perfidy, which is prohibited in all circumstances," the statement added.

Israel's military has said one of the men killed in the hospital was a member of the Hamas militant group, which governs Gaza, and the others worked for Jenin Brigade and the armed wing of Islamic Jihad. Hamas is classified as a terror organization by the US, Germany, EU and other governments.  

"We call on Israel to conduct an effective investigation," the experts said, and urged "procedures to prevent future arbitrary killings and provide reparations to the victims."

If Israel fails to do so, the experts said they would call on the International Criminal Court prosecutor to investigate the case.

Skip next section Netanyahu orders Rafah 'evacuation' plan
February 9, 2024

Netanyahu orders Rafah 'evacuation' plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel's military had been instructed to submit a "combined plan" for evacuating the population of Rafah in southern Gaza, while "destroying" the remaining Hamas militant battalions in the city.

The statement from Netanyahu's office comes after the US on Thursday expressed concern over Israel's plan for a military operation in the city, where over 1 million civilians are sheltering.

A US State Department spokesperson said it has seen no evidence that Israel had adequately prepared for a ground assault on the city, which was first hinted at by Netanyahu last week. 

"To conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area" where 1 million people are sheltering "would be a disaster," the spokesperson said. 

Rafah, located on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, is one of the last areas in Gaza where Hamas battalions remain. 

"It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah," said the statement from Netanyahu's office, referring to the number of Hamas militants in the area. 

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

US warns Israel over planned ground offensive in Rafah

Skip next section IDF says it eliminated Hamas militants and infrastructure
February 9, 2024

IDF says it eliminated Hamas militants and infrastructure

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Friday that a joint naval, air and ground troop operation was carried out in Gaza, to "eliminate terrorist infrastructure and several terrorists."

Israeli troops also got rid of a "terrorist cell" that the IDF said had planted explosive devices near the soldiers.

In the southern neighborhood of Khan Younis, 15 "terrorists" were killed. IDF troops also uncovered weapons such as AK-47s and grenades, the military said.

The IDF also struck several buildings using a directed aircraft, saying the buildings contained explosive devices.

The Israeli military also "eliminated two armed terrorists who were operating adjacent to an armed terrorist cell and Hamas military post," it added.

Skip next section Arab top diplomats renew cease-fire calls in Riyadh meeting
February 9, 2024

Arab top diplomats renew cease-fire calls in Riyadh meeting

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar reiterated calls for a cease-fire in Gaza during a meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Thursday.

The meeting, held on the heels of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's latest regional tour, was also attended by the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Hussein al-Sheikh.

The meeting parties tried to promote a unified Arab position on the conflict, diplomats told the French AFP news agency. The UAE's top diplomat called for preventing the spillover of the conflict, the UAE's state news agency reported.

"The ministers emphasized the need to end the war on the Gaza Strip, reach an immediate and complete cease-fire, ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law, and lift all restrictions that impede the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Those meeting also voiced support for UNRWA, the UN Palestinian aid agency that is under fire over Israeli accusations that 12 staff members were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which triggered the war. 

"They also stressed the importance of taking irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution and recognize the state of Palestine on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital," SPA said.

The Arab diplomats also renewed their "categorical rejection" of any forced displacement of Palestinians.

Skip next section 107 killed in past 24 hours in Gaza
February 9, 2024

107 killed in past 24 hours in Gaza

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said on Friday that 107 people have died and 142 people have been injured over the past 24 hours in the Palestinian enclave.

The figures raise the overall death toll in the besieged strip since October 7 to 27,947, the ministry said. It added that 67,459 more were injured.

Israel, the US and the EU consider Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, a terrorist group. 

The ministry — whose figures are deemed as largely accurate by UN agencies — does not differentiate between militants and civilians in the casualty statistics it provides.

Skip next section UN chief calls for cease-fire, warns of humanitarian catastrophe
February 9, 2024

UN chief calls for cease-fire, warns of humanitarian catastrophe

Antonio Guterres
Guterres told a news conference that more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million population were pushed into RafahImage: Gian Ehrenzeller/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for a cease-fire in Gaza, warning about the potential humanitarian disaster and broader regional fallout if Israel proceeds with its planned offensive in Rafah.

Guterres told a news conference that more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million population were pushed into Rafah, located near the Egyptian border in southern Gaza, following Israel's military offensive, exacerbating an already critical situation.

"Reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah are alarming," the UN chief posted on X, formerly Twitter. "Such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences," he said.

The Israeli government's announcement of an offensive near the Egyptian border has heightened humanitarian concerns, with more than a million Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah.

"They are living in overcrowded makeshift shelters in unsanitary conditions without running water, electricity and adequate food supplies," Guterres said.

Meanwhile, the United States warned Israel of a looming "disaster," with State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel saying that the US did not support an Israeli operation in Rafah.

Skip next section Biden calls Israel's military action 'over the top'
February 9, 2024

Biden calls Israel's military action 'over the top'

US President Joe Biden criticized Israel's military action in Gaza as "over the top" as Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the Gaza Strip killed at least 13 people on Thursday.

Among those killed were two women and five children, according to the Kuwaiti Hospital where the bodies were received.

Biden pushed for a pause in fighting to aid civilians and facilitate the release of hostages.

"There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it's gotta stop," Biden told reporters at the White House.

This is the most substantial criticism from the US as pressure builds on the president to push Israel to stop its operations in Gaza. Biden's latest stance is a departure from his earlier statement in the initial days of the war when he described the death toll in Gaza as "the price of waging a war."

Earlier, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli military was preparing to press in on Rafah and "total victory" over Hamas was just months away. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the US, the EU, Germany and other countries.

People try to clean a damaged building
Earlier, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a "total victory" over Hamas was just months awayImage: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/picture alliance

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have sought refuge in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza on the Egyptian border, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.

Egypt has warned that any ground offensive there or mass displacement across the border would jeopardize its four-decade peace agreement with Israel.

Skip next section US airstrikes target Houthis in Yemen
February 9, 2024

US airstrikes target Houthis in Yemen

The US military said on Thursday it conducted airstrikes against Yemen's Houthi rebels, targeting drone boats and anti-ship missile launchers threatening vessels in the Red Sea

The US Central Command, CENTCOM, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that seven self-defense strikes were conducted in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen as "they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region."

The strikes targeted four Houthi crewless surface vessels and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles.

CENTCOM had earlier confirmed its strikes against the Houthis late Wednesday following two attacks on US and British ships in the Red Sea.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel's offensive in Gaza.

ss/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)