IDF tells Gazans to evacuate eastern Rafah

Gallant says ‘no choice left’ except military operation in Rafah


Smoke billows over buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 27, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)

The Israel Defense Forces has begun calling on residents of eastern Rafah to evacuate to a new, expanded humanitarian zone ahead of a major military offensive in the city, the final Hamas bastion in Gaza, the army announced on Monday morning.

The IDF has marked out two evacuation zones: An expansion of the Al-Mawasi zone along the central-southern Gazan coastline, and Khan Yunis. Monday’s message directs noncombatants to the expanded area in Al-Mawasi, which includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medicine and other supplies.

The Israeli Cabinet decided on the evacuation on Sunday night, with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant informing US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin of the decision overnight. The initial evacuation area reportedly contains around 100,000 people.

Gallant told Austin of “the many efforts that the State of Israel is making to reach an [agreement] for the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire, and said that at this stage Hamas refuses any proposal that would allow this,” according to a readout of the call provided by Gallant’s office.

The Israeli defence minister emphasised that “there was no choice left and this meant the start of the Israeli operation in Rafah.”

His office added: “Gallant thanked the secretary of defence for the close cooperation, and emphasised that the United States has an important role in advancing dialogue for the release of the hostages held captive by Hamas”.

For his part, Austin “reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages and stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid,” according to the Pentagon’s readout of the phone call.

Austin also “reiterated the United States’ commitment to supporting Israel’s defence.”

In addition, the IDF said that it is working with international organisations and other countries to increase the level of humanitarian aid entering Gaza.

“In accordance with the approval of the political echelon, the IDF calls on the population [of Rafah], which is under the control of Hamas, to temporarily evacuate from the eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah to the expanded humanitarian space. This matter will progress in a gradual manner according to ongoing situation assessments,” the IDF said.

The Israeli military said that it was conveying the evacuation message via announcements, text messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic.

IDF Arabic-language spokesman Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee tweeted an “urgent appeal” on Monday morning to residents and displaced people in the Al-Shouka municipality and the Al-Salam, Al-Jeneina and Al-Byouk neighborhoods in the Rafah area to evacuate immediately to the humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi.

“The IDF will work with extreme force against the terrorist organizations in the area where you reside, as it has done so far. Anyone who is close to terrorist organisations puts his life and the life of his family at risk,” Adraee wrote.

He also warned residents not to return to areas north of the Wadi Gaza, such as Gaza City, which he described as a “dangerous combat zone,” or to approach the eastern and southern security fences.

Monday’s evacuation notice comes after three IDF soldiers were killed and at least three others seriously wounded on Sunday when Hamas terrorists fired 14 mortar shells from the Rafah area of southern Gaza at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom.

The Israeli Air Force subsequently attacked Hamas targets in Rafah, in the areas from which the missiles were fired.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is currently closed to the passage of humanitarian aid trucks as a result of the attack, according to the IDF.

The Israeli government says going into Rafah is essential to winning the war, given that four of the final six Hamas battalions – comprising thousands of gunmen – are entrenched there. If the Rafah operation does not move forward, Israel has warned that Hamas will regroup and threaten Israel again. The terrorist group has pledged many repeats of the atrocities committed on October 7.

In a condolence message to the families of the soldiers killed in Sunday’s rocket attack, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned that “the delay in entering Rafah is costing us a lot of blood.”

He went on to say that, “The Nazis in Gaza are counting on the continuation of the Oslo approach, and will continue to harm our soldiers and citizens. The IDF must enter Rafah today and defeat the enemy.”

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