Israel briefed US on plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians for Rafah operation

US and world powers warn of civilian suffering in southern Gaza city as Israel asserts Hamas targets remain

Displaced Palestinians at a temporary camp in Rafah, southern Gaza, on May 3, 2024. Bloomberg
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Israel this week briefed officials of President Joe Biden's administration on a plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians ahead of a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to US officials.

The officials told AP that the plan set out by the Israelis did not change the US administration’s view that moving forward with an operation in Rafah would put too many Palestinian civilians at risk.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out a military operation in Rafah despite warnings from Mr Biden and other western officials that doing so would result in more civilian deaths and worsen a humanitarian crisis.

The Biden administration has said that there could be consequences for Israel should it move forward with the operation without a credible plan to safeguard civilians.

Some 1.5 million Palestinians have sheltered in the southern Gaza city as the territory has been ravaged by the war that began on October 7 after Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages.

The UN humanitarian aid agency on Friday said that hundreds of thousands of people would be “at imminent risk of death” if Israel moves forward with the Rafah assault. The border city is a critical entry point for humanitarian aid and is filled with displaced Palestinians, many in densely packed tent camps.

The officials added that the evacuation plan that the Israelis briefed was not finalised and both sides agreed to keep discussing the matter. Politico first reported the news.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday that no “comprehensive” plan for a potential Rafah operation has been revealed by the Israelis to the White House.

Israeli assault on Rafah would be unbearable escalation, UN chief warns

Israeli assault on Rafah would be unbearable escalation, UN chief warns

The operation, however, has been discussed during recent calls between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu as well as during recent online talks with senior Israeli and US national security officials.

“We want to make sure that those conversations continue because it is important to protect those Palestinian lives – those innocent lives,” Ms Jean-Pierre said.

The revelation of Israel's continued push to carry out a Rafah operation came as CIA Director William Burns arrived on Friday in Egypt, where negotiators are trying to seal a ceasefire accord between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas is considering the latest proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release put forward by US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, who are looking to avert the Rafah operation.

They have publicly pressed Hamas to accept the terms of the deal that would lead to an extended ceasefire and an exchange of Israeli hostages taken captive on October 7 and Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

However, Mr Netanyahu said last week week that Israeli forces would enter Rafah, which Israel says is Hamas’ last stronghold, regardless of whether a truce-for-hostages deal is struck.

His comments appeared to be meant to appease his nationalist governing partners, and it was not clear whether they would have any bearing on any emerging deal with Hamas.

Updated: May 04, 2024, 7:36 AM