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Israel deepens Rafah operation and says 1 million civilians have moved out

Alisa Odenheimer, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Israel is expanding its military operations in Rafah against Hamas and says 1 million civilians have now moved out of the city in southern Gaza.

“We are strengthening our effort in Rafah,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday. “This operation will grow, with more forces on the ground and more forces from the air.”

Israel is operating with care and precision, according to military spokesman Daniel Hagari, amid concerns from the U.S. and other countries about the threat to the local population.

The city, which borders Egypt, had about 1.4 million civilians before Israel’s military started urging them to move out in early May. Most of those people fled there after the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October, something Israel encouraged as its forces initially concentrated on northern parts of the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to allow civilians to evacuate before a ground assault on Rafah, which Israel describes as the last bastion of Hamas. Several thousand of the Islamist group’s fighters and senior leaders, as well as hostages it holds, are located there, according to Israeli officials.

Even so, the operation is deeply controversial, with many of Israel’s allies wanting it to agree to a cease-fire and saying the conditions in areas civilians are being told to move to — such as tented camps north of Rafah — are dire.

Israeli troops are mostly operating on the outskirts of Rafah, but are moving further into the city as more civilians leave.

The advance comes as Israel said it would revive cease-fire talks with Hamas after a social-media video showing the abduction of female Israeli soldiers sparked a public outcry. The footage served as a reminder in Israel of the hostages that remain captive in Gaza following their kidnapping during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which triggered the ongoing conflict.

 

“We will reach our goals to hit Hamas very hard, to deny its military capabilities, to the point that we create all the conditions to facilitate the return of the hostages,” Gallant said, speaking from a navy boat off the coast of Gaza.

The talks over a truce and release of hostages have stalled in large part because Hamas wants a cease-fire to be permanent. Israel says it can only last a few weeks because the war must continue until Hamas is destroyed or surrenders.

Gallant joined a naval patrol to review the military effort as well as the maritime delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, he said.

Earlier this week, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said he is seeking arrest warrants for Gallant as well as Netanyahu and leaders of Hamas on war crimes charges. Israeli officials and the U.S. said the move against the premier and his defense minister was outrageous and beyond the remit of the ICC.

Hamas fighters killed around 1,200 people in southern Israel and took 250 hostage with their attack on Oct. 7 from Gaza. Israel’s killed more than 35,000 people with its air and ground offensive on the Palestinian territory, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.

(Updates with more detail on military operations and truce talks.)


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