Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli military to draw up plans to evacuate Rafah, a Gazan city packed with more than a million people, in advance of an expected ground offensive that has set off international alarm.

In a statement announcing the orders on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu’s office did not give any details of when the evacuations might be carried out, when the Israeli military might enter the city or where people might go. Many civilians in Rafah are sheltering in rickety tents made of plastic and wood and say there is nowhere left in Gaza to avoid Israeli shelling.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office said it would be impossible to realize Israel’s goal of smashing Hamas’s rule in Gaza without destroying what it said were the group’s four battalions in Rafah, on Egypt’s border. The military’s “combined plan” would have to both “evacuate the civilian population and topple the battalions,” the statement said.

“Any forceful action in Rafah would require the evacuation of the civilian population from combat zones,” it said.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office announced the orders less than a day after President Biden issued some of his sharpest criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war, calling it “over the top” and saying the starvation, suffering and killing of civilians had “got to stop.” His criticism, which dominated Israeli news headlines, revealed growing frustration with Mr. Netanyahu as the death toll in Gaza has risen above 27,000, according to the territory’s health officials.

After Mr. Netanyahu said this week that he had ordered troops to prepare to enter Rafah, aid agencies, the United Nations and U.S. officials said the prospect of an incursion there was particularly alarming.


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