Palestinians react in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Rafah on February 24, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

Washington: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’ll have a “plan for action” in hand on Sunday for moving the civilian population out of Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip ahead of an offensive to “dismantle” remaining Hamas battalions.

“There is no disagreement with me and the US about the need to evacuate the population,” Netanyahu said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

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Israel doesn’t need “prodding” by the US to shield Gaza civilians, he added. The plan will include how to “dismantle” remaining Hamas battalions, Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader said people now in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, would be directed north. “There’s room for them to go north of Rafah to the place that we’ve already finished fighting in,” Netanyahu said.

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Much of Gaza has been devastated by Israeli air and ground bombardments since October, and most of the million or more civilians now sheltering in Rafah were moved from areas in the north.

Separately, Netanyahu said he couldn’t predict a timeline for a deal with Hamas on swapping Israeli hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Israeli media reported that talks on Friday involving the Israeli delegation and representatives from the US, Egypt and Qatar had yielded a breakthrough.

Netanyahu told CBS that Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, first needs to back off “delusional claims” which he didn’t specify.

An intense Israeli military operation in Rafah could take “a matter of weeks,” and Israel will proceed with it whether there’s a hostage/temporary ceasefire deal or not, Netanyahu said.

Separately, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration had made it clear that all parties need to make every effort toward a temporary cease-fire.

“We are telling everyone, including the Israeli government, that it is our firm position that every effort be exercised to get to this agreement, and then we can move forward from there,” Sullivan said.

Israel has been attacking Hamas in Gaza for nearly five months, killing almost 30,000 there, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry. Meantime, conditions on the ground in Gaza are increasingly desperate.