RAFAH – Israeli airstrikes killed at least 31 Palestinians — a third of them children — in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Saturday.
The airstrikes came hours after Israel’s prime minister said he asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people there ahead of a ground invasion. Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide details or a timeline, but the announcement set off widespread panic.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, many after being uprooted by Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of Gaza’s territory. It’s not clear where they could run next.
Israel says that Rafah, which borders Egypt, is the last remaining stronghold for the Hamas group in Gaza after more than four months of war sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
In Egypt’s first public response to Netanyahu’s announcement, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have “disastrous consequences,” and asserted that Israel aims to eventually force the Palestinians out of their land.
Shoukry also said Egypt was working to bridge the gap between the warring sides to achieve a permanent ceasefire and free the remaining hostages taken on Oct. 7 in return for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. “The negotiations are complex,” he said.
There is increasing public friction between Netanyahu and the Biden administration, whose officials have said an invasion of Rafah without a plan for the civilian population would lead to disaster.
Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah almost daily, even after telling civilians in recent weeks to seek shelter there from the current ground combat in the city of Khan Younis just to the north.
Overnight into Saturday, three airstrikes on homes in the Rafah area killed 28 people, according to a health official and Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals. Each strike killed multiple members of three families, including a total of 10 children, the youngest 3 months old.