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Israel’s plan for taking Rafah

By Joshua Marks

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday evening, Feb. 25, presented to Israel’s War Cabinet a plan to evacuate the civilian population from Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.

A tent camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, set up for Palestinians who evacuated from their homes, Jan. 30, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

A tent camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, set up for Palestinians who evacuated from their homes, Jan. 30, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The IDF also introduced its operational plan for the pending offensive in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “the last Hamas bastion.”

Speaking to Fox News on Monday, Feb. 26, Netanyahu addressed US concerns about a plan to protect noncombatants.

“We have a combined plan of evacuating civilians out of harm’s way and destroying those Hamas battalions,” Netanyahu said about the four Hamas battalions concentrated in Rafah out of six remaining in Gaza.

Israel says it has destroyed 18 of the 24 terrorist battalions so far.

“I can tell you that Hamas will do everything in their power to make sure that we don’t evacuate those civilians.

“They try to stop them at gunpoint and often at gunfire, but that’s not going to stop us. We won’t give them immunity.

“We will get the population out. We will continue the job to achieve total victory.”

“Total victory is how you win the war and total victory is how you win the peace. You can’t win the peace if you don’t win the war.”

To that end, Netanyahu told CBS News on Sunday, Feb. 25, that once the invasion of the city along the Egyptian border begins, the IDF will be “weeks away from total victory.”

Hamas started the war on Oct. 7 when it led a mass attack on the northwestern Negev, killing 1,200 people, wounding thousands more and kidnapping 253.

Israel conducted an aerial campaign against Hamas in the weeks after the massacre, which paved the way for the ground offensive that started on Oct. 27.

The potential ceasefire deal under discussion in Doha won’t stop the IDF from operating in the city, Netanyahu added.

“If we have a deal, [the operation] will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.”

Many of the 134 captives still in the hands of Hamas are believed to be held in the Rafah area.

It is feared that some of them could have been smuggled to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula via the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Two hostages were rescued from Rafah by Israeli special forces last this month.

Netanyahu described the Hamas demands for a ceasefire deal as “outlandish” and “in another orbit, in another planet” in his Monday interview with “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade.

“They have to come down to reality and I think if that is the case we will be able to have a deal. We certainly want it. I want it. We’ve already been able to free half the hostages, which is a singular achievement, but we want the remainder too,” Netanyahu said.

International concern has mounted ahead of the Rafah offensive because of the large civilian population in the city, which swelled to some 1.5 million, more than half of Gaza’s total of 2.3 million, after the IDF directed civilians to a humanitarian zone there when the war began in October.

Netanyahu said last week that those calling for Israel to forgo an operation in Rafah were effectively urging the IDF to surrender to Hamas.

“I speak with world leaders every day. I tell them decisively: Israel will fight until we achieve total victory.

Indeed, this includes action in Rafah, of course after we allow the civilians found in the combat zones to evacuate to safe areas,” said Netanyahu.

“Whoever wants to prevent us from operating in Rafah is telling us in effect to lose the war. I will not allow this . . . We will not surrender to any pressure. We will not surrender because we are a people that desires life. We will not surrender because we must — must — defeat the evil.”

War Cabinet ministers on Sunday, Feb. 25, approved a plan to distribute humanitarian aid to the southern part of the coastal enclave “in a manner that will prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip and other areas,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israel will start transferring humanitarian supplies directly to northern Gaza to bypass Hamas, the War Cabinet decided on Saturday night.

In the coming days, trucks carrying supplies bound for the parts of Gaza already conquered by Israeli forces will enter near the Karni crossing at the northeastern end of the Strip.

The crossing was permanently closed in 2011, with the last remaining structures of the cargo terminal demolished by the Israeli military in 2022.

On Dec. 15, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing for the transfer of aid to the Strip after intense US and international pressure. All the Israeli crossings to Gaza had been shuttered after the Oct. 7 massacre, with only Egypt’s Rafah crossing from Sinai remaining open.

However, Hamas has been hijacking up to 60% of the aid entering the Gaza Strip, according to Israel.

UNRWA is suspending aid deliveries to northern Gaza via Egypt’s Rafah crossing, the Guardian reported on Feb. 24.

“The desperate behavior of hungry and exhausted people is preventing the safe and regular passage of our trucks,” Tamara Alrifai, director of external relations for UNRWA, told the British newspaper.

Last week the World Food Programme (WFP) said that it had been forced to halt humanitarian aid deliveries to northern Gaza, citing the “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order.”

Israel has not granted UNRWA permits to deliver aid to northern Gaza for more than a month.

The agency is under dire financial pressure following the suspension of aid by 18 countries. The suspension came following allegations that a dozen UNRWA employees participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre.

Subsequent reporting has suggested that about 10% of UNRWA’s staff has ties to Palestinian terror.

In addition to UNRWA, Israeli authorities have also stopped renewing visas and work permits to a large number of aid workers in Gaza and the West Bank.

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