Netanyahu approves attack on Rafah

Ahram Online , Friday 15 Mar 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given his approval to an Israeli army plan for an army attack on the southern Gazan city of Rafah, according to a statement released by Netanyahu's office.

In this file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel. AP


The Israeli army is "preparing for the operational side and the evacuation of the population," his office said in a statement.

Ahead of Israel's planned offensive into Gaza's southernmost town of Rafah, the Israeli army had said Wednesday it plans to direct a significant portion of the 1.4 million displaced Palestinians trapped in Rafah toward “humanitarian islands” in the centre of the territory.

"The United States needs to see a clear and implementable plan for Rafah, including to get civilians out of harm's way," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday. 

Blinken told reporters during a visit to Austria on Friday that the US has not yet seen such a plan for a military operation in the densely populated Rafah.

Last week, US President Joe Biden said invading Rafah was a "red line", but he used contradictory and confusing language.

"It is a red line, but I am never gonna leave Israel. The defence of Israel is still critical, so there is no red line I am gonna cut off all weapons," President Biden said.

On Thursday, during a tense exchange at the US State Department, spokesman Matt Miller faced questions regarding the forced relocation of already displaced Palestinians to another area of Gaza.

Said Arikat, the Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem-based newspaper Al-Quds, questioned why the people of Gaza were being treated "like a herd of cattle."

"Israel intends to move Palestinians out of Rafah ahead of an expected offensive. Is that truly acceptable? I mean, are they merely a herd of cattle? Continuously shifting them north, south, and so forth? Continuously displacing them from one place to another? Is that truly acceptable to the United States government?" Arikat queried.

Miller responded, "Before I pass any sort of judgment, we are going to continue to do what we have said we would do, which is to look for the Government of Israel to provide a plan about how they would address the humanitarian situation in Rafah."

A catastrophe

Humanitarian groups have warned a Rafah offensive would be a catastrophe.

UNRWA has condemned the Israeli so-called plan to transfer 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah to what it calls "humanitarian islands' in central Gaza to make way for an all-out ground assault on Hamas in the city as "catastrophic."

"Where will these people be evacuated to? There is no safe place anywhere in Gaza. People have had enough! Any more escalation will be horrifying," said UNRWA in a statement on Thursday.

At the start of the war, Israel directed evacuees to a slice of undeveloped land along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that it designated as a safe zone. But aid groups said there were no real plans in place to receive large numbers of displaced there. Israeli strikes also targeted the area.

The Future of US Weapons in Israel

US officials said an Israeli army operation in Rafah would likely lead to a significant shift in US policy including an end to the defence of Israel at the United Nations and restrictions on the use of US weapons by the Israeli army in Gaza, according to an Axios report last Tuesday. 

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out contradictory "red lines" about the war in Gaza in recent days that could put them on a collision course if Israel invades Rafah in southern Gaza in the next few weeks, three US officials told Axios.

No decisions have been made about how the U.S. would respond to an Israeli operation in Rafah, but two US officials said one of the options discussed internally between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon is to impose restrictions on the use of US-made offensive weapons by the Israeli army in Gaza.

Egypt against any operation in Rafah

During a speech at the Police Academy on Friday, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reiterated Egypt's warning of the danger of invading Rafah, situated on the border with Egypt.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry also formulated the same concern in a phone call with his US counterpart Antony Blinken, last Saturday. 

A full-scale Israeli military operation in Rafah would deliver a death blow to aid programs in Gaza, where humanitarian assistance remains "completely insufficient," the UN chief warned late in February. 

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Antonio Guterres said that Gaza's southernmost city, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are crowded together in tent cities, was "the core of the humanitarian aid operation" in the Palestinian territory.

"An all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs," he said.

The Israeli statement also discussed the latest ceasefire proposal put forward by Hamas, which it described as "unrealistic."

However, an Israeli delegation will travel to Qatar to discuss their position.

Hamas presented the proposal to mediators and the US, according to Reuters, which reported that it includes the release of Israeli captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, including 100 who are serving life sentences.

Short link: