Middle East

Israeli military presents plan for evacuating Gaza’s population from ‘fighting areas’

By Rob Picheta, Nic Robertson and Alex Stambaugh, CNN

Tel Aviv, Israel CNN  — 

The Israeli military has submitted a plan to the war cabinet for “evacuating the population” of Gaza from areas of fighting, amid warnings that an offensive on the southern city of Rafah will take place soon.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had directed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to draw up a plan for the evacuation of civilians from Rafah, where more than a million people are crammed.

That “upcoming operational plan” was submitted for approval on Monday, Netanyahu’s office said, though its Monday statement did not mention Rafah by name. CNN has not seen a copy of the plan.

Fears are growing in Gaza and across the international community over the IDF’s planned offensive on Rafah, which lies next to the shuttered border with Egypt.

The city has become home to the majority of displaced Palestinians as the Israeli military advanced south through the enclave, but those civilians seemingly have no further place to escape.

Israel has already targeted Rafah with near-daily airstrikes, while preparing for a ground offensive in the city.

The US has warned it would not support a campaign on the city without a “credible” plan to evacuate Palestinians.

Monday’s statement from Netanyahu’s office said the cabinet also approved a plan for providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza “in a manner that will prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip and other areas.”

The Israeli leader pledged to press ahead with the effort in Rafah during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

“We can’t leave the last Hamas stronghold without taking care of it,” Netanyahu said, adding that the last “command stronghold” of Hamas is in Rafah, with four command battalions concentrated there. CNN cannot independently verify those numbers.

He told the program that once Israel “begins the Rafah operation, the intense phase of fighting is weeks away from completion, not months, weeks away from completion.”

And he indicated he had asked the IDF to submit a “double plan”; one to “enable the evacuation of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” and another “to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions.”

“If we have a deal, it’ll be delayed somewhat. But it’ll happen,” Netanyahu said, referring to a potential deal that would see a humanitarian pause in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. “If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway. It has to be done,” he said.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN Sunday that negotiators had come to an “understanding” on the broad contours of a potential deal, and talks are continuing in Qatar on Monday.

These negotiations come even as indirect discussions with Hamas continue. Crucially, Hamas has not yet signed onto this possible framework and any possible final deal is still, at the earliest, days away as negotiators continue to hammer out the actual details.

“The representatives of Israel, the United States, Egypt and Qatar met in Paris and came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like. I’m not going to go into the specifics of that because it is still under negotiation in terms of hammering out the details of it,” Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash.

“There will have to be indirect discussions by Qatar and Egypt with Hamas because ultimately they will have to agree to release the hostages. That work is underway,” Sullivan added. “And we hope that in the coming days, we can drive to a point where there is actually a firm and final agreement on this issue. But we will have to wait and see.”

CNN’s Camila DeChalus, Sam Fossum

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