Updated May 6, 2024 - World

Israel's military calls on Palestinian civilians to evacuate parts of Rafah

  A Palestinian kid injured after an Israeli attack is being taken to a hospital for treatment in Rafah, Gaza on May 06, 2024.

A Palestinian child injured after an Israeli attack is taken to a hospital for treatment in Rafah, Gaza, on Monday. Photo: Doaa Albaz/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel on Monday started to evacuate Palestinian civilians from the eastern parts of Rafah close to the Israel border ahead of a possible ground invasion, the IDF said.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has expressed deep concern about the possibility of an Israeli military invasion in the southern Gaza city where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week that "a major operation" in Rafah will harm U.S.-Israeli relations.

The latest: Israel Defense Forces on Monday evening local time said Israel started attacking Hamas targets in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah.

Driving the news: Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, a spokesperson for Israel's Army, told journalists in an online briefing earlier in the day that Israeli forces had begun "a limited scope operation to temporarily evacuate residents in the eastern part of Rafah." It's expected to affect about 100,000 people.

  • Israel's Defense Forces said in a post to X that its forces have expanded the humanitarian area in Al Mawasi "to accommodate the increased levels of aid flowing into Gaza."
  • The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said in a tweet early Monday morning that it will remain in Rafah as long as possible to provide aid.

The decision to start the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from Rafah was taken after talks between the Hamas delegation and Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo ended with no breakthrough.

  • Senior Israeli officials said the main sticking point in the negotiations is the question of whether a hostage deal would lead to the end of the war.
  • Hamas wants a clear commitment that implementing the entire hostage deal would end the war, but Netanyahu has refused to agree to that condition.
  • A senior Israeli official said the war cabinet made the decision because of Hamas' positions during the hostage talks and the attack it conducted yesterday on Kerem Shalom near Rafah, which killed several Israeli soldiers. The official said the operation could be stopped if Hamas changes its positions in the hostage talks.

Behind the scenes: The decision to move forward with an initial evacuation of Palestinian population from Rafah was taken during a war cabinet meeting on Sunday evening, Israeli officials said.

  • After the war cabinet meeting, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant spoke with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and briefed him about the decision.
  • Gallant told Austin that Hamas refuses the current hostage deal proposal and emphasized that military action is required, including in the area of Rafah, at the lack of an alternative, according to an Israeli statement.
  • Austin told Gallant any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah must include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid, the Pentagon said.
  • On Sunday, CIA director William Burns was planning to travel to Israel after talks in Qatar. After the Israeli cabinet decision, he decided to stay in Doha on Monday, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

Between the lines: Over the weekend, Netanyahu issued three separate statements about the negotiations. Two were attributed to an "Israeli political official" and, in an unusual move, the statements were issued on the Sabbath.

  • The prime minister's message in all the statements was he won't agree to ending the war and that an operation in Rafah will happen with or without a hostage deal.
  • Many Israeli officials, including those who are involved in the negotiations, saw Netanyahu's statements as an attempt to provoke Hamas and sabotage the talks.

What they're saying: Netanyahu said on Monday that Hamas is the one who sabotaged the hostage deal and didn't agree to move from its extreme demands.

  • Netanyahu said no Israeli government could have agreed to Hamas' demands that Israel withdraw from Gaza and end the war.
  • "This will enable Hamas to regain control and prepare for a new October 7 attack," Netanyahu said.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios: "We have made our views clear on a major ground invasion of Rafah to the Israeli government, and the President will speak with the Prime Minister today."

  • The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: "We call on Israel to maintain maximum restraint and avoid further escalation at this sensitive point in time in the negotiations on the ceasefire agreement."

The other side: A Hamas official told Axios the parties were close to reaching a hostage deal and claimed the Israeli decision to start evacuating the Palestinian population from Rafah will lead to the suspension of the hostage negotiations.

  • "Netanyahu is under the illusion that a threat to invade Rafah will put pressure on Hamas, but it will only lead to the collapse of the hostage deal talks," the Hamas official said.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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