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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Israel wants to relocate Palestinians to ‘humanitarian islands’

The military has claimed it will move civilians to safer areas in Gaza before launching its Rafah offensive

Many of the displaced civilians crowded into Gaza’s southern tip will be directed into safe zones in the center of the Palestinian enclave before a major ground offensive begins to eliminate the territory’s last Hamas stronghold, the Israeli military has claimed.

“We need to make sure that 1.4 million people – or at least a significant amount of the 1.4 million people – will move,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Wednesday in a press briefing. “Where? To humanitarian islands that we will create with the international community.”

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These places of refuge will provide temporary shelter, food, and water to displaced civilians, Hagari said. Civilians had previously fled to Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, after Israeli bombardments leveled their neighborhoods in other parts of the enclave. The administration of US President Joe Biden, West Jerusalem’s most powerful ally, has insisted that Israeli forces should provide a “credible” plan for protecting civilians before launching their controversial Rafah offensive.

The Israel-Hamas war has already left more than 31,000 people dead in Gaza, according to the local health authorities. Upward of 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced by Israeli bombardments, and the UN has estimated that 570,000 people in the besieged Palestinian territory are starving.

Hagari did not specify when evacuations will begin or how much time will be given before ground forces start pounding Rafah. He said the timing will be coordinated with neighboring Egypt, which has demanded that Gaza refugees not be driven into its territory.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the Rafah campaign will go forward, despite international fears that it will cause a humanitarian catastrophe, because Israel’s survival cannot be ensured without “total victory” against Hamas. The prime minister said last month that Israel had already destroyed 18 of the 24 Hamas battalions in Gaza, and four of the surviving units were concentrated in Rafah.

“To win this war, we must destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu said in a video address on Tuesday. “If not, Hamas will regroup, rearm and reconquer Gaza – and then we’re back to square one. And that’s an intolerable threat we cannot accept.”

The war erupted when Hamas fighters launched surprise raids against southern Israeli villages on October 7, killing over 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza. About two-thirds of the Palestinians killed in the conflict were women and children, according to Gaza health officials. A UN refugee agency claimed on Tuesday that more children had been killed in Gaza since October than the global total for child deaths in all conflicts from 2019 through 2022.