Israel announces plan to evacuate Rafah ahead of southern offensive

Israel’s top spokesperson suggested that Israel has a plan to evacuate many of the more than 1 million Gazans who have fled to Rafah in southern Gaza. The news comes as the U.S. continues to call on Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the strip while families struggle to observe Ramadan. Foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin speaks on how people in Gaza are celebrating.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Today, Israel's top spokesperson for the first time publicly suggested that Israel has a plan to evacuate many of the more than one million people who have fled to Rafah in Southern Gaza.

    That comes as the U.S. continues to call on Israel to do more to allow humanitarian aid into the strip.

    Nick Schifrin joins us now.

    So, Nick, let's start in Rafah.

    What plan does Israel have when it comes to attacking Rafah and then moving civilians out of harm's way?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials tell me that there is no plan, at least one that has been presented to them.

    But, as you said, Israel's top military spokesman, Admiral Daniel Hagari, said today that they have a plan to evacuate — quote — "a significant number" of the 1.4 million Gazans who have fled to Rafah. You can see some of the conditions that they're living in right now. And they would be evacuated, Hagari said, to quote humanitarian islands in Gaza.

    Hagari gave no more details than that. And the U.S. officials I speak to, frankly, are very skeptical that this is actually a plan, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken reflected today.

    Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: There has to be, if there are going to be military operations in Rafah, a clear and implementable plan to get the civilians out of harm's way and to provide for them once out of harm's way. We have not seen that plan.

    Is it possible? Yes, it's possible. But we haven't seen it. And the most important thing is to see it and to make sure that it's something that can be implemented.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials I speak to, Geoff, are, frankly, skeptical that there will ever be a plan that Israel has to evacuate all of those people.

    But they do believe that Israel is serious about going into Rafah because Hamas' final four battalions are in Rafah. And Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without defeating those four battalions, which leads to President Biden's warnings, U.S. officials' warnings about what would happen if Israel goes into Rafah and what multiple officials I talk to say are considerations, just that, considerations right now of what to do if that happens, everything from forcible statements to votes in the Security Council to, yes, conditioning the use or sale of weapons to Israel.

    But, again, we're a long way from that happening right now.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Considerations.

    OK, so meantime, the U.S. is still trying to get a hostage deal. What's the latest there?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    So, publicly, all sides say that the talks are stuck. But CIA Director Bill Burns, who's been leading the U.S. effort here, has been in the region trying to find a path forward. And what U.S. officials fear is that Hamas is biding time, essentially hoping that, during Ramadan, Israel, whether in Gaza or Jerusalem, makes some move that would inflame Palestinian or Arab opinion and therefore alleviate some of the pressure that is being put on Hamas, especially by Qatar right now.

    And part of that is that Hamas wants the world, wants the focus of Gaza to be on the humanitarian crisis there.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    A humanitarian crisis that is very real.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Very real, especially about food.

    The U.N. says all of Gaza's 2.2 million people are in — quote — "food crisis." And the U.N. says one-quarter of Gaza is one step away from famine. So, as the holy month of Ramadan begins, there is simply not enough food to go around.

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