Israel is preparing to launch what is expected to be a massive ground operation inside Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter. The Israeli army has begun ordering tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the city to evacuate.

On Monday, Israel’s Defense Forces ordered an evacuation of Rafah, signaling that a long-promised ground operation could be imminent. The Israeli army has described Rafah as the last significant Hamas stronghold after seven months of war, and its leaders have repeatedly said clearing Rafah is necessary to defeat the Islamic militant group.

Overnight, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel was left with no choice but to act in Rafah after Hamas terrorists carried out a deadly rocket attack from Rafah earlier in the day that left four Israeli soldiers dead.

A potential ground operation comes as last-ditch efforts by international mediators, including the CIA, to broker a cease-fire have failed to produce a deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out a military operation in Rafah. According to Israel’s army, forces are beginning with a ‘limited scope operation.’

Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, an army spokesman, said some 100,000 people were being ordered to move to a nearby Israel-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi. He said Israel published a map of the evacuation area.

These orders have been issued through air-dropped leaflets, text messages and radio broadcasts so that Palestinians could get the information.

‘Anyone found near (militant) organizations endangers themselves and their family members. For your safety, the (army) urges you to evacuate immediately to the expanded humanitarian area,’ one flyer read.

He said Israel has expanded humanitarian aid into Muwasi, including field hospitals, tents, food and water.

Israel’s army said on the social media platform X that it would act with ‘extreme force’ against Hamas terrorists, and urged the population to evacuate immediately for their safety.

The move also comes as the Biden administration reportedly put a hold on a shipment of U.S.-manufactured ammunition to Israel for the first time since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack.

Two Israeli officials told Axios that the weapons shipment was stopped last week, leaving officials within the Israeli government scrambling to understand why.

About 1.5 million Palestinians – more than half of Gaza’s population – are sheltering in Rafah, as they have been forced to evacuate other areas in the Gaza Strip, amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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