Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised “safe passage” for tens of thousands of Palestinians out of Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah, ahead of a planned Israeli ground offensive against Hamas militants.
Netanyahu, in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” show, reiterated his intention to order Israeli troops to attack four Hamas battalions in Rafah, saying victory cannot be achieved over the militants in Gaza without clearing them out of the town on the Egyptian border.
It is not clear, however, where the displaced Palestinians will go.
With more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people crammed into the far southern reaches of the territory, international critics of Netanyahu have expressed alarm at the prospect of an Israeli ground assault.
But the Israeli leader said, “We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave.”
Some world officials are expressing deep concerns about the Israeli war plan in Rafah and its promise of safety for the Palestinians there.
A White House statement had said that President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Sunday and told him that Israel should not continue with a military operation in Rafah without “a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,”
U.S. President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel’s right to defend itself following the October 7 Hamas terror attack, said last week that nonetheless the Israeli military campaign in Gaza is “over the top.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there would be the risk of a “gigantic tragedy” if the Israel Defense Forces expand their offensive into the town.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X, “The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air,” adding that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry also warned on Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah, and called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron expressed concern about the prospective offensive, as he wrote on X, that “The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out”.
Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television quoted a senior Hamas official as saying any Israeli ground offensive into Rafah would “blow up” negotiations for a halt in the fighting and the possible release of about 100 hostages held by the militants.
Hamas has been designated a terror group by the United States, Britain and the European Union.
The war in Gaza started with the October attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and led to the capture of 240 hostages, about 100 of whom were released in a weeklong cease-fire in November.