Israeli military poised to move Palestinians out of Rafah ahead of assault

Hamas has reportedly begun to prepare for Israeli military operation in Rafah, providing its fighters with supplies and arms

An Egyptian delegation will hold talks in Israel on Friday in an effort to revive discussions on a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal as an Israeli attack on the southern Gaza city of Rafah looms.

On Thursday Cairo warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the operation goes ahead. Cairo is worried that a planned Israeli military conquest of Rafah on the Egyptian border, the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza, would trigger a mass transfer of residents into the Egyptian Sinai.

“Egypt has adopted a clear stance since the first minute, totally rejecting the forced migration of Palestinians from their lands to Sinai in order to preserve the Palestinian cause from liquidation and safeguard Egypt’s national security,” president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in a televised address.

The Israeli army says it is ready to begin evacuating Rafah once it receives government orders. Hamas has reportedly begun to prepare for an Israeli military operation in Rafah, providing its fighters with supplies and arms. It is also reported to have increased the number of militants guarding the hostages being held in the city.


Six residents of Rafah were killed in Israeli airstrikes early on Thursday.

Israeli forces also resumed bombarding northern and central areas of the enclave, as well as east of Khan Younis in the south. Israel said its jets attacked militants in central Gaza who it claimed were preparing to shoot rockets into Israel.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 34,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th. Some133 hostages remain in Hamas captivity. It is not known how many have died.

Palestinian civil defence officials in Gaza claimed on Thursday that mass graves found in two hospitals containing 392 bodies showed signs of torture and executions. Israel claims the graves were dug by Gazans a few months ago but has admitted that some of the bodies were exhumed by troops and examined to make sure they were not the bodies of hostages.

US president Joe Biden released a statement alongside the leaders of 17 other countries – all with citizens held captive in Gaza – calling upon Hamas to release the hostages to bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire.

“We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas, now for over 200 days. They include our citizens. The fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern,” the leaders said in the statement. “Let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region.”

Dozens of relatives of hostages and their supporters, some with hands tied together, protested outside the military headquarters in Tel Aviv, as the war cabinet met on Thursday.

The Palestine Telecommunications Company said internet services had again been cut off in central and southern Gaza on Thursday, blaming Israeli military operations. Such outages have compounded the obstacles confronting efforts to get emergency aid to stricken civilians and provide medical care at the few centres not yet shattered by fighting. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem