GAZA STRIP: Israel’s military proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from “areas of fighting” in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on Monday (Feb 26) after he said a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory’s southern city Rafah was necessary.

Foreign governments and aid organisations have repeatedly expressed fears that an invasion of Rafah would inflict mass civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians – most of them displaced from elsewhere – have converged on the last Gazan city untouched by Israel’s ground troops.

It is also the entry point for desperately needed aid, brought in via neighbouring Egypt.

Israel’s military “presented the War Cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan”, a statement in Hebrew from Netanyahu’s office said on Monday.

The statement did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

The announcement comes after Egyptian, Qatari and US “experts” met in Doha for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media reported, the latest effort to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel’s ally the United States said ongoing mediation efforts produced “an understanding” towards a ceasefire and hostage release, while a Hamas source said the group insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

But Netanyahu – who has dismissed the withdrawal demand as “delusional” – said a ground invasion of Rafah would put Israel within weeks of “total victory” over Hamas, whose Oct 7 attack triggered the war.

“If we have a (truce) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen,” he said of the ground invasion in an interview with CBS Sunday.

“It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach – not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation.”

Amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.

Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a man-made disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance.”

The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.


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