Twenty eight Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah on Saturday morning – just hours after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his army to prepare a dual plan to evacuate and attack the region.
Benjamin Netanyahu has not shared details or a timeline, but the announcement has set off widespread panic in the area home to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.
Early on Saturday morning, Israel launched three airstrikes on homes on the border city, killing 28 people, according to a health official and Associated Press journalists stationed at hospitals.
Each strike killed multiple members of three families, including a total of 10 children, the youngest three months old.
In Khan Younis, the focus of the current ground combat, Israeli forces opened fire at Nasser Hospital, the area’s largest, killing at least one person and wounding several, said Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry.
He said medical staff are no longer able to move between the facility’s buildings because of the intense fire. He said 300 medical personnel, 450 patients and 10,000 displaced people are sheltering in the hospital.
On Friday, Mr Netanyahu said it was “impossible” to achieve the goals of the war without going into the southern border city and eliminating what he claimed was the last stronghold of Hamas, who launched a bloody attack inside Israel on 7 October.
In a statement he said a “massive operation” was needed and ordered the military and security establishment “to submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions”.
President Joe Biden said this week Israel’s response was “over the top.”
“It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu’s office said Friday. “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 included both a mass evacuation of civilians and the destruction of Hamas’ forces in the town.
The Israeli offensive has caused widespread destruction, especially in northern Gaza, and hundreds of thousands of people appear to not have homes to return to.
Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians across the border into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which is mostly closed, serves as the main entry point for humanitarian aid.
Rafah had a prewar population of roughly 280,000, and according to the United Nations is now home to some 1.4 million additional people living with relatives, in shelters or sprawling tent camps after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.
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.