Netanyahu orders evacuation of Rafah, Abbas denounces precursor to Palestinian expulsion from Gaza - as it happened

Ahram Online , Friday 9 Feb 2024

On the 126th day of the Israeli war on Gaza, Israeli snipers in Khan Younis killed 21 Palestinians near Nasser Hospital, targeting medical staff. In the past 24 hours alone, Israeli forces killed 107 people, while the UN chief urges a ceasefire to prevent "a gigantic tragedy" in Rafah if Israel attacks.

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on February 9, 2024. AFP


20:00 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's remarks regarding a purported assault on Rafah as a "genuine threat" and indicative of Israel's intention to expel Palestinians from Gaza forcefully.

In an official statement released by Abbas's office, he emphasized that both the Israeli and US governments would bear full responsibility for the potential repercussions of such actions.

He further urged the UN Security Council to intervene.

"The time has come for collective action to thwart the looming threat of another Nakba, which risks plunging the entire region into perpetual conflict," the statement concluded.

19:50 Protesters confronted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Columbia Institute of Global Politics conference, accusing her of being a war criminal while discussing Israel's alleged "mass rape" propaganda.

The conference was temporarily suspended after protesters confronted US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, accusing her of being an accomplice to genocide, amidst chants of "Free, Free Palestine."



19:10 Israel's intention to invade Rafah continues to generate alarming reactions. "1.4 million Palestinians are currently in Rafah without a safe place to go, facing starvation," said Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security

"Reports of an Israeli military offensive on Rafah are alarming. It would have catastrophic consequences worsening the already dire humanitarian situation and the unbearable civilian toll," he added on X.

Gaza-based human rights organization Al-Mezan said it has been warning for months of Israel's evacuation orders as a pretext to push Gaza's population closer to the border with Egypt in preparation for their mass deportation.

"Time is running out: the international community must act now to halt the ground invasion of Rafah."



19:00 Israeli snipers have been targeting civilians outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, resulting in the reported deaths of 21 Palestinians in approximately 24 hours.

Medical staff within the hospital have reported being deliberately targeted as well.

Here is some fresh footage from Al Jazeera.



18:40 Al Jazeera has obtained new footage showing clashes between the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Israeli military in the Tel Al-Hawa neighbourhood of Gaza.



18:30 A Palestinian 17-year-old was killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, the Ministry of Health announced.

Muah Ashraf Faleh died after being shot by Israeli forces in Beita, south of Nablus.

Israeli forces clashed with local Palestinians during yet another raid on the occupied West Bank.

18:30 Meta has removed Instagram and Facebook accounts run on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over his support for the Palestinian resistance and Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, offered no specifics about its reasoning. However, it said it removed the accounts “for repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy.”

“We do not allow organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on our platforms,” the policy states. That includes those designated as terrorists by the US government. 

Facebook has already been banned in Iran since its 2009 presidential election; Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services were blocked last year. 

Khamenei and his vast patronage network inside Iran have long been targeted by US sanctions – Khamenei himself since 2019 by the administration of then president Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Khamenei still maintains an account on X, formerly Twitter.

The Washington Post reports having seen internal guidance from Meta revealing an ongoing debate within the company regarding the flagging of user posts containing the word “zionist.”

According to The Washington Post, this potential move aims to “counter a surge of anti-Semitism online” but could spark a clash over censorship, especially as users continue to discuss Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

The social media company has allegedly briefed certain advocacy groups, both Jewish and Palestinian, on the potential change, which would broaden “how it enforces its ban against hate speech to include more uses of the term, especially when it might appear as a hateful substitute for ‘Jews’ or ‘Israelis,'” the Post reports, citing “people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters” at Meta.

Yesterday, The Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition, a social media watchdog group, sent letters to Meta, X, Telegram, and TikTok, highlighting the proliferation of dehumanizing rhetoric against Palestinians on their platforms amid the brutal Israeli war.

18:10 "Any large-scale military operation among this population (in Rafah) can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that's unfolding,' the UNRWA said.



17:50 An unexploded Israeli missile landed on a UNRWA school where tens of displaced Palestinians were taking shelter in Gaza.



Netanyahu's office stated, "It is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat." 

It remains unclear where civilians will be evacuated since Rafah is the southernmost point in the Gaza Strip directly at the border with Egypt. 

Previous evacuation plans enacted by the Israeli military have consistently led to a heavy civilian death toll, with only nominal "safe passages" where civilians were killed. 

This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Oct 13, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Jan. 14, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Here are some photos coming from Gaza today.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah.

 A child transports water in a wheelchair in Rafah.

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in Deir al Balah.


16:20 Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said Hamas will eventually be regarded as a partner for peace in the Middle East.

In an interview on LBC radio, the first minister stressed the importance of communication, comparing it to peace talks within Northern Ireland, adding: “You only have to look at our own example to know how important dialogue is."

The Sinn Féin vice president also called for a ceasefire in Gaza, warning that the warzone is “the graveyard for children, let it not be the graveyard for international law.”

She was asked: “A long time ago, the IRA was seen as a terrorist organisation that the British government and everybody else could not ever talk to. And yet we know what followed from that. Do you think that Hamas, although regarded as a terrorist organisation by many people around the world, are going to be eventually a partner for peace, have to be a partner for peace?"

She replied: "Yes, I think you only have to look to our own example, to know how important dialogue is, and it is the only way you're going to ever bring an end to the conflict. If the British government didn't talk to Republicans or Republicans didn't talk to the British government in the past, in Ireland, we would not be in the scenario that we are in today enjoying a peaceful and far more equal society.

"So, what we need to see in the Middle East, in particular, in relation to Palestine is that we need to see a ceasefire now. And we need the international community, to be singing in chorus and harmony in terms of ceasefire now.”

16:10 New UN data points to increasing malnourishment levels amongst Palestinian children. 

Arm measurements show extreme physical wasting in 1 in every 10 children under the age of five. 

This measurement showed that malnourishment has drastically increased by about 12 times since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

In northern Gaza, the situation is even graver.

Food supplies have become increasingly tapped out since the onset of the war with some Gazans resorting to eating grass. 

Food trucks have recently become the target of hungry victims of the Israeli offensive who have found no other alternative to settle the constant torment of starvation. 

The entry of aid into the strip has been blockaded by Israel.

15:40 The Israeli army launched mass detentions and forced interrogations of Palestinian refugees and residents in the Abbasan area in Khan Younis.

These interrogations and detentions are specifically targeting those residing in schools that evacuated northern Gaza.

Women and children are now being forced to walk almost nine kilometres or 5.6 miles from the Abbasan area to Rafah in hopes of finding safety.

The majority of the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza have fled the destruction in northern Gaza, seeking safer shelter as refugees in cities located in the south of the strip.

Currently, about 1.5 million Palestinian refugees find themselves in Rafah without adequate food, water, or shelter.



15:20 Syrian state media said that two drones were shot down west of Damascus. 

The drones were said to have entered from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. 

Earlier reports had risen that Syrian air defences had responded to a hostile attack, according to Sana News Agency. 

Previously, the United States carried a total of 85 strikes on seven separate sites in Iraq and Syria, including on command and training centres and weapons stocks, killing dozens of people including civilians.

15:00 Egypt refuted US President Joe Biden's statements regarding the operation of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, asserting that the border crossing was open "without any restrictions or conditions" from the start of the conflict.

"Egypt, from the outset, opened the Rafah crossing without any restrictions or conditions and mobilized significant humanitarian aid, both from Egypt itself and through contributions from various countries worldwide that sent aid to Arish Airport," the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.

Talking about his efforts to deliver aid to Gaza, Biden claimed to have pressed Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to open the Rafah border crossing, which the US alleges he initially refused out of fear that Israel would forcibly displace Palestinians into his country.

"Egypt exerted pressure on all relevant parties to facilitate the entry of this aid into the sector," it continued. However, the continued bombing of the Palestinian side of the crossing by Israel, which recurred four times, prevented the entry of aid.

Once the bombing ceased on the other side of the crossing, Egypt immediately rehabilitated it, and made necessary technical adjustments, allowing for the entry of a larger amount of relief aid to the Gaza population.



ِEgypt also rejected "the politicization of humanitarian aid in all its forms," stressing that "it cannot be used as a tool of war."

In a phone interview with Al-Qahirah News Channel, the presidential spokesperson added that Egypt "has refused from the very beginning the policies of collective punishment in Gaza."



14:25 British Airways announced that it will resume flights to Israel, having suspended them in October on security fears after the outbreak of the Israeli war.

The airline, a subsidiary of the London-listed aviation conglomerate IAG, said that it will recommence flights to Tel Aviv starting 1 April.

Operating four times per week, the route will utilize smaller aircraft compared to pre-conflict levels, reflecting anticipated lower demand.

Following the onset of Israeli attacks, numerous airlines halted flights to Israel. However, several carriers, including Air France, Lufthansa, and Ryanair, have since announced plans to resume operations.

14:20 The US military conducted new airstrikes on Yemen's Houthi rebels, as confirmed by officials on Friday.

The strikes carried out on Thursday, targeted four drone boats laden with explosives and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missile launchers in the Red Sea region.

The US military's Central Command said that these targets posed an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels operating in the area. 

A ship travelling through the southern Red Sea was attacked by a suspected Yemen Houthi rebel drone early last Tuesday, authorities said, the latest assault in their campaign targeting vessels over the Israeli war on Gaza.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, backed by few allies, have launched airstrikes targeting Houthi missile arsenals and launch sites for its attacks.

14:10 Palestinians in Jabalia, northern Gaza, gathered for Friday prayers for the first time since Israel launched its war.

The prayers took place in the streets, as almost all mosques in the area had been destroyed by Israeli attacks.



13:30 The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini said that more than half a million children are currently unable to attend school due to the prolonged Israeli war.

"More than half a million girls and boys are out of primary and secondary school in Gaza. Every day of war deepens the scars, risking a lost generation vulnerable to exploitation," Lazzarini said in a post on X.

"Children are being robbed of childhood," he added.

"This needs to be reversed starting with a humanitarian ceasefire."



13:20 Israel is escalating its attacks on Rafah despite warnings of catastrophic consequences for displaced Palestinians and the United States' refusal to support such an assault on the southern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army conducted multiple rounds of air strikes and tank shelling on Rafah on Thursday and Friday.

According to the Palestinian state news agency, WAFA, at least three children were among eight people killed this morning in Israeli attacks on homes in Rafah. 

Furthermore, four people were killed and several injured in the bombing of a kindergarten housing displaced people in Al-Zawayda, and one person was killed in a bombing in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials have announced plans to expand their military offensive in Gaza to include Rafah, where more than half of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million has been forcibly displaced due to relentless Israeli attacks.

13:10 The US national security spokesperson, John Kirby has warned Israel against conducting an attack against Rafah, the last refuge of Palestinians fleeing the Israeli war.

The US, the main military and financial backer of Israel, "would not support an attack on the southern town," he said.

US President Joe Biden has suggested that Israel’s army operations in Gaza have been “over the top” and said he is seeking a “sustained pause in the fighting” to help ailing Palestinian civilians.

He added that he had been pushing for a deal to normalize Saudi Arabia-Israel relations, increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians, and a temporary pause in fighting to allow the release of detainees in Hamas captivity.

The Biden administration has issued a memorandum outlining the standards that countries receiving US military aid must adhere to.

While the memorandum does not introduce new guidelines, it calls for countries to provide written assurances of compliance with existing US standards. Additionally, it mandates the US government to submit an annual report to Congress on countries' adherence to these requirements.



13:00 Newly released footage, published by Israeli soldiers, depicts them, including an Israeli officer with a rank of Sg-Major, beating and humiliating kidnapped Palestinians while singing.

According to the UN's human rights representative in the Palestinian territories, thousands of Palestinian men have been detained by Israeli forces since the beginning of Israel's Gaza war on 7 October, often facing conditions that could amount to torture.

In scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany, videos have circulated of the Israeli army blindfolding and stripping naked tens of Palestinians in Gaza before loading them onto trucks and transporting them to unknown destinations.

The emergence of several viral videos and photos depicting Israeli soldiers behaving derogatorily in Gaza has created a dilemma for the Israeli occupation army, which is facing international condemnation over its conduct and the mounting civilian death toll in its war against Gaza.



12:26 António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN expressed alarm over reports of the Israeli military's intentions to focus on Rafah next.

"Half of Gaza’s population is now crammed into Rafah with nowhere to go, Guterres said.

"Reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah are alarming," he added.

"Such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences."



12:20 A meeting convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday to address the ongoing Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip and explore potential solutions.

Organized at the invitation of Saudi Arabia, the gathering aimed to tackle the escalating tensions and humanitarian crisis resulting from over four months of relentless Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the meeting brought together the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, alongside a senior Palestinian official.

Participants stressed the urgent necessity to halt the Israeli war in Gaza and achieve an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.

They emphasized the paramount importance of protecting civilians under international humanitarian law and removing all barriers hindering the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, attendees reiterated their steadfast support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, urging all stakeholders to fulfil their humanitarian obligations towards Palestinian refugees.

During the Riyadh consultation meeting, diplomats reiterated the call for "irreversible" steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Recognizing Palestine as an independent state along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, by relevant international resolutions, was underscored as a pivotal element towards achieving a just and lasting peace.

12:00 According to the most recent toll released by the Palestinian health ministry, Israel killed 27,947 Palestinians, predominantly women and children, in its devastating war on Gaza and injured 67,459 others.

In the past 24 hours alone, Israeli forces have killed at least 107 Palestinians, with 142 others sustaining injuries.

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