JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said he has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of the densely populated southern Gaza city.
The announcement came after heavy international criticism, including from the U.S., of Israeli intentions to move ground forces into the city. Rafah borders Egypt and is now home to hundreds of thousands of people living in sprawling tent camps after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
Israel says that after more than four months of war 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 the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.”
It said he had ordered the military and security officials to come up with a “combined plan” that includes both a mass evacuation of civilians and the destruction of Hamas' forces in the town.
Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas militants burst across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. An Israeli air and ground offensive has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, most of them women and minors, according to local health officials. Roughly 80% of Gaza's population has been…