Netanyahu orders population of Gaza’s crowded Rafah evacuated ahead of an expected ground invasion



Airstrikes overnight and into Friday hit two residential buildings in Rafah, while two other sites were bombed in central Gaza, including one that damaged a kindergarten-turned-shelter for displaced Palestinians. Twenty-two people were killed, according to AP journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals.U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that Israel’s conduct in the war, ignited by a deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack, is “over the top,” the harshest U.S. criticism yet of its close ally and an expression of concern about a soaring civilian death toll in Gaza.The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Friday that the overall Palestinian death toll is now approaching 28,000, with about two-thirds women and children. The count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also prompted an unusual public backlash in Washington.“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said Thursday. Going ahead with such an offensive now, “with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster.”John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, said an Israel ground offensive in Rafah is “not something we would support.”The comments signaled intensifying U.S. friction with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pushed a message of “total victory” in the war this week, at a time when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel to press for a cease-fire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of Hamas-held hostages.Aid agency officials also sounded warnings over the prospect of a Rafah offensive. “We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional,” said Catherine Russell, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. “Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.”With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces are still focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Netanyahu has repeatedly said Rafah will be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.Netanyahu’s words have also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel. The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.



Source link