The Israeli government has ordered the military to prepare for an attack on the Gaza border town of Rafah, with the aim of destroying four Hamas battalions and evacuating civilians from the area. The date of the attack has not been set yet, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which cites sources within the government.
One of the major issues facing Israel as it plans its operation is the lack of an agreement with Egypt over what will happen to the tunnels that run between Egypt and Gaza. These tunnels are believed to have been used by Hamas to smuggle weapons and other supplies into Gaza. As a result, any Israeli ground attack on Rafah could increase pressure on Hamas leaders to be more flexible in negotiations between the two sides.
According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, the Prime Minister has instructed the military to develop a plan for carrying out this operation and completing it before March 10th, before Ramadan begins. This plan should include both destroying Hamas’s forces in Rafah and evacuating civilians from the area.
Hamas has warned that any Israeli ground attack on Rafah could result in tens of thousands of casualties. International actors have expressed their concern about the potential impact of such an attack on civilians in Gaza, as well as on regional stability and security. According to Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry data, more than 28,000 people had already been killed by Israeli airstrikes and attacks by Saturday in response to October’s attack by Hamas.