According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has instructed the armed forces to draw up a plan to carry out an attack on the Gaza border town of Rafah and evacuate civilians. The date for the attack has not been decided yet, and one of the biggest question marks is the fate of the tunnels running between Egypt and Gaza. These tunnels are believed to have been used by the extremist organization Hamas to smuggle weapons and supplies into Gaza.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu had told his government that the attack should be completed by March 10, and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is scheduled to begin in the region on that day. Hamas warned that a possible Israeli ground attack on the border town of Rafah could claim tens of thousands of victims, and several international actors have expressed concern about the effects of a possible attack. Israel has previously ordered people to evacuate to the southern part of Gaza, and there are even hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Rafah area.
According to a source close to Netanyahu’s office, Israel’s declarations of intent to attack Rafah could increase pressure and prompt Hamas leaders to show more flexibility in negotiations. The armed forces have been preparing for weeks for such an operation, with intelligence gathering operations being conducted on Rafah’s infrastructure and military capabilities. The plan is expected to include a coordinated air strike by Israeli fighter jets, as well as ground operations by infantry troops.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 28,000 people had already been killed by Israeli airstrikes and attacks by Saturday, and Israel began its military operations in Gaza after the October attack by Hamas. There are concerns about potential civilian casualties as well as damage caused during such an operation due to its complexity. However, Israel maintains that it is acting in self-defense against rocket attacks from Gaza that target its citizens.