Rafah evacuation could take weeks, US says

An evacuation plan would include ‘humanitarian islands’ in which temporary housing, food, water, and other essential supplies for evacuees could be provided.


American officials estimate that it will take weeks, at least, to complete the evacuation of civilians from Rafah in southern Gaza once the green light is given to the Israel Defense Forces, Kan News reported on Monday.

The population of Gaza’s southernmost city has swelled to some 1.4 million after hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated south of Wadi Gaza in the early weeks of the war.

According to the report, the U.S. officials said that the evacuation plan would need to include a “flood” of humanitarian aid to the areas noncombatants will be evacuated to, as well as the construction of temporary shelters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday approved plans for an Israeli military operation in Rafah, where Hamas’s final four battalions, comprising roughly 3,000 fighters, are concentrated and where the senior leadership and remaining Israeli hostages are believed to be.

Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that conquering Rafah is essential to winning the war against Hamas.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Monday downplayed any rift with the Biden administration over the looming Rafah operation, telling Army Radio that “it’s clear we will act in Rafah. Ahead of the massive operation, we will evacuate the civilians from there. Not north—but to an area to the west.”

Speaking to reporters in Austria on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States has yet to see the Israeli plans for evacuating noncombatants from Rafah.

“We have to see a clear and implementable plan, not only to get civilians out of harm’s way but also to make sure that once they are out of harm’s way, they are appropriately cared for,” the top American diplomat said.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari last week presented a plan to direct a significant number of civilians from Rafah to “humanitarian islands” in the center of the coastal enclave ahead of the expected offensive.

Additionally, Hagari emphasized that moving the civilians to designated areas would be done in coordination with international actors.

“We need to make sure that 1.4 million people or at least a significant amount of the 1.4 million will move. Where? To humanitarian islands that we will create with the international community,” Hagari told reporters at a press briefing, as quoted by the Associated Press.

The humanitarian islands would include temporary housing, food, water and other essential supplies for evacuees.

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Hagari also said that the Rafah operation would be coordinated with neighboring Egypt to ensure there is no influx of Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula.

For his part, Katz added that “there are Arab countries who can help with putting up tents, or other things, in the framework of humanitarian action.”

However, in a sign of the challenges of a Rafah operation to Israel’s international standing, Egypt and European leaders agreed on Sunday to reject any military offensive.

The Rafah operation “would double the humanitarian catastrophe that civilians in the Gaza Strip are suffering from, in addition to the effects of that operation on liquidating the Palestinian cause, which Egypt outright rejects,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at a press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Cairo.

Washington has told Jerusalem that it could support a limited IDF military operation against “high value” Hamas targets in Rafah, according to a report published last week in Politico.

The American news outlet wrote that senior Biden administration officials conveyed to their Israeli counterparts that the United States could support targeted raids against the terrorist group’s top officials both above ground and in the vast tunnel system running underneath the city.

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