Relating to the apparent Israeli proposal to encourage Gaza civilians to relocate to a "safe area" in al-Mawasi, which the UN isn't exactly excited about (according to BBC), has the US government made comments about that proposal? The BBC writes (on Nov 25):

For several weeks, Israeli officials have been talking about a solution - a so-called "safe area" at al-Mawasi, a thin strip of mainly agricultural land along the Mediterranean coast, close to the Egyptian border.

Last week, leaflets dropped over the nearby city of Khan Yunis warned of impending airstrikes and told people to move west, towards the sea.

In a post on social media on Thursday, Avichay Adraee, the IDF's spokesman for the Arabic media, told Gazans al-Mawasi would provide "the appropriate conditions to protect your loved ones."


Israeli officials say it will be up to aid agencies to make sure help reaches al-Mawasi from the Rafah crossing, more than 10km away. They haven't said how this will work in practice. [...]

But on 16 November, a statement by the heads of 18 UN agencies and NGOs involved in providing assistance to Palestinian civilians appeared to reject Israel's plans outright.

Without mentioning al-Mawasi by name, the 16 November statement warned that Israel's unilateral proposals could put many lives at risk.

FWTW, that BBC piece also claims:

US officials are said to be trying to negotiate with Israel over additional safe areas, possibly including one at Dahaniya, at the far southern tip of the Gaza Strip.

But I can't find any other sources mentioning the latter (Dahaniya) in this regard.

As there has been some commentary on whether the BBC is neutral enough on this, given that COGAT only referred to Al-Mawasi as a "humanitarian zone" (on Oct 18), here's the WSJ calling it a "proposed displacement camp" on Nov 21, citing the IDF as source.

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FT more laconically noted on Nov 19:

Israel has indicated that it wants the people in southern Gaza to move again, towards a tiny square of territory called al-Muwasi along the coast between Rafah and Khan Younis.

The Times of Israel wrote on Nov 21:

The Israel Defense Forces has no plans to allow Palestinians to move back to northern Gaza when the military expands its ground offensive into the southern part of the Strip.

The Times of Israel has learned that the IDF instead plans to direct the civilian population to areas away from the expected ground offensive in southern Gaza, in order to reduce civilian casualties.

The population may move around in southern Gaza, but not northward, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

So far, the IDF has declared the small al-Mawasi area on the southern coast of Gaza as a “safe zone” amid the ground offensive in the north and airstrikes across the Strip.

So, yeah, the latter has the nuance that al-Mawasi is a declared "safe zone", not a proposed camp, but insofar the only area declared to be "safe" for civilians in view of the southern offensive.

A Nov 17 opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post by Yakoov Katz (who was the editor-in-chief of the JP from 2016 till March 2023) even claims that

The second challenge is the presence of so many displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza. Israel, in conjunction with Egypt, the US, the UN has been trying to get as many displaced Palestinians to move to an area in southwest Gaza called Al-Mawasi, near where the Gush Katif settlements used to stand. Defense officials think that there is enough room there for all of the displaced Palestinians, but there is a need to get them there. That will take time, a commodity of which Israel is running out.

Although the quotes given by the BBC show UN disagreement on that. And I've not seen an explicit US endorsement, although maybe one exists?

  • It could be good to cross-check the claims in the quoted article with other sources. BBC is known to be as somewhat partial on the given subject. Nov 25, 2023 at 14:32
  • Voting not to close - It's a simple question that can be (eventually) answered factually.
    – sfxedit
    Nov 25, 2023 at 16:11
  • Regarding BBC: complaints against its bias are made on higher levels than SE: e.g. timesofisrael.com/topic/bbc-anti-israel-bias, and apparently even serve as a source of common jokes in Israeli new programs. Though the other side also complains about bias: aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/23/… Nov 25, 2023 at 18:16
  • There are now two Israeli newspapers quoted in the Q: ToI and JP. Roger has used the latter as source in other answers. In fact, I added those two late Nov 25, but my comment to that effect was deleted by a mod for some reason. I would not have put such a long quote from the BBC, but there was also a comment dispute (now deleted) as to what the BBC actually said. Nov 30, 2023 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


To partially answer my own Q, the NYT quotes:

“We have made clear to them, as we have made clear publicly, that we think they should not commence with further activities in the south until they have taken the proper steps to account for the humanitarian needs there,” Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman, said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

Mr. Miller estimated that several hundred thousand people had moved from northern Gaza to the south, adding: “Before any military offensive begins there, we would want to ensure that those people are properly protected.”

American and United Nations officials have begun focusing on persuading the Israeli government to allow for the creation of safe areas in the south, which in theory would be entire neighborhoods that have been relatively undamaged by strikes so far and would be safe from attacks, U.S. officials say.

David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy for humanitarian aid, is in the region and negotiating with Israeli officials over the safe areas, a U.S. official said, with the hope that the planned four-day halt to the fighting gives the Americans enough of a window to get an agreement.

So, the NYT appears to confirm that the US is negotiating with Israel the extent of the safe zones, which is perhaps why the US doesn't want to make any public pronouncements on the suitability of the areas declared thus far.

And if that seems a bit weird, Israel has previously said that they allowed one thing or the other at the insistence of the US, e.g. a week ago:

"Yesterday evening, the War Cabinet responded to a special request by the United States to provide two fuel tankers per day for the sewage purifying facilities in the Gaza Strip that are facing collapse without electricity and the ability to manage the water and sewage systems that UNRWA manages," Israeli National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters Friday in Tel Aviv.

There was actually a bit more said in the presser on Nov 20, although some of that wasn't then covered by the press in their own articles AFAICT. Miller was asked specifically about 'Mawasi', but declined to comment, citing ongoing discussion with Israel:

QUESTION: [...] Some of the UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies have said that Israel’s idea of moving these people to Mawasi on the southwest coast isn’t going to work. And so what do you think is the best option? Since the UN may or may not be participating, what do you think is the best option in terms of keeping civilians safe as the conflict moves south?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to prescribe that here, given that it is the subject of ongoing conversations between the United States, the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and the Government of Israel to try to work out what the best solution is. We do have concerns that concentrating all civilians in one area does leave them vulnerable to harm. We are trying to work through with the Government of Israel what other solutions might be, and it’s a subject of ongoing conversation.

QUESTION: Is this something where you have like neighborhoods or areas that are considered safe for civilians? Or is this something where you have individual outposts, like hospitals, schools, or other things that would be – have some sort of protection?

MR MILLER: Well, I’d say with respect to hospitals and schools, we do want to see it – them protected. We don’t want to see them struck from the air. We’ve made that clear. That was true with respect to northern Gaza. Obviously, there is a situation where you have Hamas using hospitals as places for – where they’re embedding their fighters, they’re using as command centers. That’s a difficult situation that Israel has to address, and we want them to do it in compliance with humanitarian law.

But with respect to the first part of your question, it’s the subject of ongoing conversation right now, and I wouldn’t want to prescribe what the solution would be before those conversations are finished.

Somewhat related, he was asked about the role of other countries, but he essentially brushed them aside:

MR MILLER: [...] I would say one of the things that we heard repeatedly from every party with which we engaged on our last trip is the indispensability of the United States in every aspect of this conflict. Whether it comes from getting humanitarian assistance in, whether it comes to preventing the conflict from widening, as I’ve said from this podium before, it is the United States – not any other country – that was able to negotiate an agreement to begin delivering humanitarian assistance in. It was the United States that was able to push for and achieve humanitarian pauses so civilians could move around Gaza more safely than they could before. It is the United States that’s the largest humanitarian donor to the Palestinian people.

Related, but I don't want to dwell on this bit, since I consider it a developing story, and it's not explicitly mentioning al-Mawasi, but on Nov 27 there was a presser with unnamed (for the public) "senior administration officials", which a number of journalists (e.g. AP, Reuters) have described as a US shift in position on the matter of further internal displacement of Gaza civilians. (This presser was embargoed till the next day, so it was covered in the press on the 28th). The most relevant bit being that those US officials said that it is "very important that the conduct of the Israeli campaign, when it moves to the south, must be done in a way that is to a maximum extent not designed to produce significant further displacement of persons". OTOH also on the 28th, Kirby gave another presser which pretty much reiterated Miller's points, i.e. that there should be no external displacement but wrt further internal one all Kirby said is that that needs to be "properly accounted for" by the Israelis, which is much less of an expressed constraint.

A somewhat more explicit indication indication that the US might have been unhappy just with that one zone is Blinken's statement on Nov 30:

In my meetings today with the prime minister and senior Israeli officials, I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians.

That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.

It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza. It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals, like power stations, like water facilities.

[...] I underscored the imperative to the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south. As I told the prime minister, intent matters, but so does the result.

Al-Mawasi is in the Rafah Governorate, the southern-most governorate of Gaza. It's still possible that adding that "central" was just flourish from Blinken, but if one considers the rest of his statement, it was probably more than that, IMHO.

  • Actually, googling that sentence "We do have concerns that concentrating all civilians in one area does leave them vulnerable to harm" finds some coverage of it in ToI, but there's less context given there ([al-]Mawasi is not mentioned): timesofisrael.com/… Nov 26, 2023 at 8:42

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