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Israeli military unveils evacuation plan for Gaza

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In a significant development on Monday, Israel announced its military’s readiness to execute a plan for the evacuation of Gazans, specifically targeting the far-southern city of Rafah.

The move, aimed at averting a feared invasion, drew a stern warning from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who emphasized that such an incursion into Rafah would severely impact ongoing aid operations, calling it the potential “final nail in the coffin.”

Rafah, home to 1.4 million Palestinians near the Egyptian border, holds a crucial role as the core of humanitarian aid operations in the besieged Gaza Strip, according to Guterres.

In a parallel shock development, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the occupied West Bank handed in his government’s resignation to President Mahmud Abbas, citing the “new reality in the Gaza Strip” and the escalation of violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

As the conflict persists, with Israeli forces engaging in strikes and ground operations in Gaza, the death toll continues to rise. Overnight, 92 people were reported killed, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Amidst international discussions on a post-war Gaza, including calls for a reformed Palestinian Authority to govern both the West Bank and Gaza, Shtayyeh urged intra-Palestinian consensus and the extension of the Authority’s rule over the entire land of Palestine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite ongoing ceasefire talks, emphasized the military’s commitment to a ground invasion of Rafah for what he termed as “total victory” over Hamas. Netanyahu stated that once land operations commence, an Israeli victory would be “weeks away.”

While Israel presented a plan for evacuating civilians from Rafah, the destination for these displaced individuals within war-torn Gaza remains undisclosed. Concerns have been raised about neighboring Egypt’s walled enclosure next to Gaza, although Cairo has denied plans to allow a mass flight of refugees across the border.

The UN and aid groups issued dire warnings, highlighting the potential for mass casualties in the event of a Rafah invasion. Guterres stressed that such an offensive would not only terrify over a million Palestinian civilians but also jeopardize existing aid programs.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis deepens in Gaza’s north, with desperate families scavenging for food as aid trucks face hindrances. UNRWA Chief Philippe Lazzarini labeled the dire food shortages in northern Gaza as a “man-made disaster” that requires political action to avert famine.

As mediators continue negotiations towards a ceasefire and hostage release deal, hopes persist for a resolution before the onset of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in approximately two weeks. Reports suggest a potential six-week halt to fighting and an exchange of hostages, with further talks expected in Qatar.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, involved in brokering previous truces, is due in Paris this week. Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned of increased conflict during Ramadan, emphasizing the threat of expansion involving armed groups in the Middle East.

The conflict’s regional implications were underscored as Israel exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah. Israeli strikes near the Hezbollah-dominated city of Baalbek resulted in casualties, marking the first such strikes in Lebanon’s east since clashes began after the Gaza war. Israel confirmed the strike, citing retaliation for a missile that downed an Israeli drone earlier on Monday.

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