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Netanyahu prepares to evacuate Rafah

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Netanyahu prepares to evacuate Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza town.

Mr Netanyahu made the announcement on Friday following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border.

Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and it needs to send in troops to complete its war plan against the Islamic militant group.

But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have crammed into the town after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu said on Friday that a “massive operation” is needed in Rafah.

He said he asked security officials to present a “double plan” that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to “collapse” remaining Hamas militant units.

Earlier Friday, Israel bombed targets in Rafah. The attack took place hours after Biden administration officials and aid agencies warned Israel against expanding its Gaza ground offensive to the town where more than half of the territory’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

Airstrikes overnight and into Friday hit two residential buildings in Rafah, while two other sites were bombed in central Gaza, including one that damaged a kindergarten-turned-shelter for displaced Palestinians.

Twenty-two people were killed, according to AP journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Israel’s conduct in the war, ignited by a deadly October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, is “over the top,” the harshest US criticism yet of its close ally and an expression of concern about a soaring civilian death toll in Gaza.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Friday that the overall Palestinian death toll is now approaching 28,000, with about two-thirds women and children. The count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

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