Israel’s military is poised to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah and assault Hamas hold-outs in the southern Gaza Strip city, a senior Israeli defense official said on Wednesday, despite international warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government spokesperson said Israel was “moving ahead” with a ground operation but gave no timeline.

The defense official said Israel’s Defence Ministry had bought 40,000 tents, each with the capacity for 10 to 12 people, to house Palestinians relocated from Rafah in advance of an assault.


A video circulating online appeared to show rows of square white tents being built in Khan Younis, a city some 5 km (3 miles) from Rafah. Reuters could not verify the video but reviewed images from satellite company Maxar Technologies, which showed tent camps on Khan Younis land that had been vacant weeks ago.

An Israeli government source said Netanyahu’s war cabinet planned to meet in the coming two weeks to authorize civilian evacuations, expected to take around a month.

The defense official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that the military could immediately begin action but was awaiting a green light from Netanyahu.

Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled the half-year-old Israeli offensive through the rest of Gaza, and say the prospect of fleeing yet again is terrifying.

“I have to decide whether to leave Rafah because my mother and I are afraid an invasion could happen suddenly and we won’t get time to escape,” said Aya, 30, who has been living temporarily in the city with her family in a school.
She said that some families recently moved to a refugee camp in coastal Al-Mawasi, but their tents caught fire when tank shells landed nearby. “Where do we go?”

Israel, which launched its war to annihilate Hamas after the Islamist group’s Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli towns, says Rafah is home to four Hamas combat battalions reinforced by thousands of retreating fighters, and it must defeat them to achieve victory.