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Forecast podcast: Israeli offensive in Rafah sparks fear of humanitarian catastrophe for Palestinians

A child leans to the left as they stand in the middle of a dirt road. The road is framed by buildings that are generally three stories tall. These buildings are concrete and show damage. The sky is sunny and bright.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Agnese Boffano discuss Israel’s plans to evacuate Palestinians from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, plus more on the beginning of Russia’s election campaign, Mexico City’s former mayor running for president, an EU naval mission in the Red Sea and Julian Assange’s final appeal against his extradition to the U.S.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Alex Moore, Jeff Landset, Jess Fino and David Wyllie. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is February 15th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Israeli military activity in Rafah, the beginning of Russia’s election campaign, Mexico City’s former mayor running for president, an EU naval mission in the Red Sea and Julian Assange’s final appeal against his extradition to the United States. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

Israel proposes Rafah evacuation

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the situation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Agnese Boffano.

JIMMY: Hello, Agnese. 

AGNESE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Agnese, we’ve been covering the war in Gaza for months now, but it seems things are changing a bit, particularly in the south. What can you tell us about what’s happening in Rafah?

AGNESE: Yeah, the developments in the south have recently taken a turn. Last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, he ordered the military to present plans to evacuate citizens from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. And this is ahead of what he called an “intensive military operation.” And just to recap a little bit as to where the Israeli military is currently in the Gaza Strip, Israel is now largely in control of much of the north of the Gaza Strip. I say largely because we’re still monitoring shootouts and RPG fire targeting their tanks and whatnots in some areas. But the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Yunis, which is a city just about seven kilometers north of Rafah, is still very much underway and Israel hasn’t quite managed to secure full operational control of the city despite more than a month since that offensive was launched. But the reason why the announcement of a military operation in Rafah is especially significant is because the city has, until now, been deemed as kind of the safe city for Palestinians to evacuate to from the rest of the territory as the ground offensive kept going further south, and as a result of which we have approximately 1.7 million displaced individuals currently sheltering there. So of course, that’s not to say that Rafah and the very southern areas of the Gaza Strip haven’t been subjected to airstrikes, if anything, we’ve seen pretty much weekly strikes, if not daily, since October 7. But you know, one thing is constant airstrikes; another is the ground offensive, which is what Bibi, or Netanyahu, is suggesting with his announcement last week.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest? How are things right now?

AGNESE: So the latest happened earlier this week, when for the first time since October 7, a joint combat unit of the Israeli military and the Shin Bet – so, Israel’s security services – they entered Rafah by land and attempted to conduct an extraction operation to retrieve two Israeli-Argentinian hostages that were kidnapped back in October and being held by Hamas since then. But during the incursion, and during the extraction process as well, Israeli Air Forces conducted multiple airstrikes to kind of pave the way for the ground advancement, which, you know, however successful it was in rescuing the two hostages, Gaza’s health ministry later said this week that more than 70 Palestinians were killed as a result of this single operation and a lot are still believed to be under the rubble. And just to add, that since October 7, this has only been the second such successful operation to retrieve hostages. We had one in late October, and another in December, where the army accidentally fatally shot three of their own hostages in the northern Gaza Strip. And, you know, since negotiations on the Israeli side revolve very much around the issue of the approximately 130 hostages that are still left in Gaza, this latest development was a pretty significant event on their side.

JIMMY: How have the Palestinians reacted to all this? And, you know, how about outside of Gaza? Has there been any notable international reactions?

AGNESE: I mean, on the Palestinian side, there was definitely panic among the residents, the people who are – have been displaced multiple times within Gaza, not only in the last few months, but even families who have witnessed displacement since 1948. There’s definitely panic as to where exactly they are meant to go, you know, from now on. I think the more interesting and nuanced has been the international reaction, because until now, I think it has been largely in support of an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. Even from the beginning, was, you know, the only real words of rapprochement being from world leaders, you know, urging the army to respect the notion of proportionality and everything along those international lines. But I think this latest Rafah announcement has come with some harsher reaction. So the US, the UN and the EU have all warned Israel not to expand their ground offensive in the south. And the main reason that they’re all citing, in which I mentioned, is exactly because of the humanitarian situation there. I mean, just look at any satellite imagery of Rafah from the last few weeks and you’ll see just how little agricultural land or empty spots you can see in the southern areas just due to the amount of makeshift tents and camps that have been built since the onset of the war.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

AGNESE: So there’s a lot of uncertain aspects at this point. I think the main one to watch out for is the evacuation plan because although Netanyahu has asked for these plans to be brought up, they haven’t been released yet. And it’s especially unclear because, you know, while these plans were presented and were put forward for Gaza City and Khan Yunis and other areas for residents to move further south, it’s unclear, as I said, where exactly the Israeli army wants the Palestinians to move to, given that Rafah, if you look at a map, is the farthest south they can move to in the Gaza Strip, and it’s extremely overpopulated due to the large displacement levels that we’ve talked about before. And not only that, but Egypt has also said that it would not allow for the displacement across the border into its Sinai region and, if anything, Cairo has, over the last few months, been reinforcing its structures along the border and even installing new checkpoints. So that’s one thing. The second thing to watch out for of course, is if and when the ground offensive into Rafah takes place. Again, logistically, this is – what this is going to look like is much more complex than Khan Yunis or Gaza City, where Israel was somewhat able to encircle and isolate these cities. Physically and, you know, militarily, it’s going to be very difficult with Rafah and it won’t come without an even more dire situation for the Palestinians there. In terms of what this means for the ongoing negotiations – and then I’ll leave it at that because there’s just too many things to discuss – Hamas has said that an offensive into Rafah would mean an end to the ceasefire and hostages talks. And although the current Israeli administration is facing a lot of pressure from the families of the remaining hostages to, kind of, remain in these negotiation talks, we’ll have to see whether Bibi is willing to sacrifice that. And so right now, we’re really talking about a race against the time to get that ceasefire approved, before the army enters Rafah, in order to prevent an even further disastrous situation.

JIMMY: Well, Agnese, we’ll pause there for today, but as always, thank you so much for keeping us informed. Always appreciate it. 

AGNESE: Thank you. 

JIMMY: Take care.

Russian presidential election campaign begins

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: The campaigning period for Russia’s presidential election begins on Saturday. That, ahead of next month’s vote.

It’s the first time Russians will go to the polls since Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, which has coincided with a crackdown on domestic dissent.

President Vladimir Putin is almost certain to extend his rule into a fourth decade, after controversial constitutional reforms in 2020 reset his term-limit clock and cleared the way for him to potentially remain in power until 2036.

He faces almost no viable opposition after the Kremlin banned two anti-war candidates from taking part in the vote. Other opposition figures are in exile, jailed or missing.

Six debates are scheduled during the campaign period, although Putin himself will not take part in them. Instead, voters will hear from the three Kremlin-approved challengers.

Russian presidential elections tend to catalyze protests, so some unrest around the vote is possible. 

If demonstrations do break out, however, they’re likely to be suppressed quickly using draconian legislation brought in after the outbreak of the Ukraine war.

Claudia Sheinbaum to register as candidate for president of Mexico

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: The former mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, will formally register her candidacy on Sunday for the country’s upcoming presidential election.

Sheinbaum served as mayor of Mexico’s capital from 2018 to 2023. Prior to that role, she was an environmental scientist and was part of the team that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for raising awareness of climate change.

She’s a longtime ally of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who can’t run for a second term due to constitutional restrictions. 

Sheinbaum was selected as the official candidate for the ruling MORENA party in primaries in September last year. 

If she wins the election in June, she’ll likely preside over a continuation of López Obrador’s policies. This includes the “hugs, not bullets” campaign which has been heavily criticized for failing to tackle the deadly cartel violence.

Despite this, the MORENA party remains popular and is currently in control of 22 of Mexico’s 32 states. Polling suggests Sheinbaum is on track to win 60% of the vote.

However, some voters are not happy about the current government’s reforms to the body that tackles election fraud and are worried about more democratic backsliding under Sheinbaum. 

They’re planning to hold pro-democracy marches in 110 cities across the country on Sunday.

EU aims to launch Red Sea naval mission

Information compiled by Jessica Fino

JIMMY: The EU is expected to launch a naval mission on Monday. The goal is to protect commercial ships in the Red Sea from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi group.

The Iranian-backed Houthis have carried out dozens of attacks on vessels transiting the Red Sea, which is an important trade route. The Houthis say those attacks are in response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Greece is widely expected to take control of the overall command of the mission from its headquarters in Larissa. 

Italy has committed to providing the admiral for the fleet, and Germany is expected to send a frigate to the area as well.

The EU mission is designed to protect vessels by intercepting Houthi attacks, rather than carrying out proactive strikes against Houthi targets, as the United States and United Kingdom have done in recent weeks.

Julian Assange final appeal against U.S. extradition

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will appear in London’s High Court on Tuesday. It’s his final challenge against his extradition to the United States.

Assange is wanted by the U.S. on 17 espionage-related charges over the publication of classified documents on WikiLeaks over a decade ago.

If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison.

Assange is currently being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after being evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy four years ago.

His lawyer has warned he is at risk of dying by suicide due to his treatment over the past decade and his suffering from a depressive condition.

Amnesty International has described the pursuit of Assange as a “full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression.” They’ve called on U.S. authorities to drop the charges.

Finally, if Assange loses the appeal, he could be extradited to the U.S. and would face his first court appearance shortly afterward in Alexandria, Va.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Jeff Landset, Jessica Fino and David Wyllie. Our interview featured editor Agnese Boffano and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2024 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: A child stands in the road in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in 2005. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the country’s military to present plans to evacuate the area ahead of an “intensive military operation.” (Photo: velvetart / Flickr)

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