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Israel seeks to evacuate Palestinians ahead of an expected invasion

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 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 that borders Egypt.

Israel says that Rafah is the last remaining Hamas terrorist stronghold in Gaza after more than four months of war.

“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 terrorist forces in the town.

Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas terrorists 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 roughly 28,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

Netanyahu has largely rebuffed international criticism of the civilian death toll, saying that Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by operating and hiding in residential areas.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that Israel’s conduct in the war is “over the top.” The State Department said an invasion of Rafah in the current circumstances “would be a disaster.”

But the White House said Friday that “nothing has changed” as it relates to U.S. policy on the Israel-Hamas war

“His position hasn’t changed, I don’t think his messaging has changed,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

She stressed that Biden has consistently supported Israel’s goal to defeat Hamas.

“At the same time, while we have said that, we have been also very clear, the president has been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that we are protecting innocent civilians,” Jean-Pierre added.

Biden has said said he continues to work “tirelessly” to press Israel and Hamas to agree on an extended pause in fighting.

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