Panic grips Rafah as Netanyahu asks military for evacuation plan ahead of offensive

Palestinian death toll crosses 28,000

Israel Rafah strikes Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip | AP

As Israel prepares for ground offensive in Rafah, where hundreds of Gazans took refuge following the war, panic has gripped Palestinians who have no place left to go. Presently, around 1.4 million Palestinians are seeking refuge in Rafah, which borders Egypt.

Israel's plans for a military offensive on Rafah in the Gaza Strip are "alarming", said European Union's foreign policy chief. "1.4 million Palestinians are currently in Rafah without safe place to go, facing starvation," wrote Josep Borell on X.

Focus to Rafah shifted from Gaza after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told military officials to come up with a combined plan for evacuating the population ahead of the ground offensive.

Meanwhile, overnight strikes in Rafah killed 28 Palestinians on Saturday. Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah almost daily, even after telling civilians in recent weeks to seek shelter there from ground combat in the city of Khan Younis, north Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll has crossed 28,000, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Israel said that Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza. It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah, Netanyahu's office said on Friday.

With tensions increasing in the border, humanitarian aid for Gazans had suffered a major blow. Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians across the border into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Rafah crossing is the main gateway for the aid to enter Gaza.

Saudi cautions ahead of ground offensive in Rafah

Saudi foreign ministry has cautioned against the "extremely dangerous repercussions" of Israel targeting Rafah city. "This continued violation of international law and international humanitarian law confirms the necessity of convening the UN security council urgently to prevent Israel from causing an imminent humanitarian catastrophe for which everyone who supports the aggression bears responsibility," said the ministry.

Ahead of Rafah strike, Hamas has said the Israeli operation could result in "tens of thousands" of dead and injured.

Hamas said in a statement that any military action would have catastrophic repercussion that “may lead to tens of thousands of martyrs and injured if Rafah … is invaded”.

The statement added that it would hold “the American administration, international community and the Israeli occupation” responsible if that happened.

Earlier, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, said a major Israeli offensive in Rafah “can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy”.

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