Israel's Netanyahu pushes Rafah attack despite international outcry - as it happened

Ahram Online , Sunday 11 Feb 2024

On the 128th day of the Israeli war on Gaza, Palestinians in Rafah are approaching panic about a ground assault into the town by Israeli occupation troops, as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to attack despite international condemnation.

Palestinians walk through the destruction left by the Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Gaza City. AFP


21:15 Jordan's King Abdullah II participated in an air drop of humanitarian aid to Gaza, state-owned Al Mamlaka broadcaster said on Sunday.

A video showed the monarch in military gear on board a military plane in the latest missions by the Jordanian air force to drop urgent medical supplies to field hospitals it runs in the war-torn Palestinian territory.

It did not give a date when the airdrop took place.

20:35 The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said Sunday that the bodies of 112 people killed across the Palestinian territory had been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours, as well as 173 wounded people.

The fatalities brought the death toll in Gaza to at least 28,176 since the start of the war and the toll of injured people to 67,784. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters but says most of those who have been killed were women and children.

20:35 Egypt stressed on Sunday its complete rejection of the statements made by high-ranking officials in the Israeli government regarding the intention of Israeli forces to launch a military operation in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

According to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's official statement, Cairo further warned of the dire consequences of such action, particularly in light of the risks of worsening the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, Egypt called for uniting all international and regional efforts to prevent the targeting of the Palestinian city of Rafah, which now shelters around 1.4 million displaced Palestinians who consider it the last safe area in Gaza.

The statement affirmed that targeting Rafah, along with Israel’s continued policy of obstructing access to humanitarian aid, is an actual contribution to implementing the policy of displacing the Palestinian people and liquidating their cause.

In this regard, Cairo considered such acts to be a clear violation of the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.

Additionally, Egypt emphasised that it will continue its communications with various parties to reach an immediate ceasefire, enforce the truce, and exchange prisoners and detainees, calling on influential international powers to pressure Israel to respond to these efforts and avoid taking measures that further complicate the situation and cause harm to the interests of everyone without exception.

Early Sunday, Egypt threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip expands into the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat told AP.

The threat to suspend the 1978 Camp David Accords came after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month-old war against the Palestinian movement Hamas in Gaza.

Gaza’s southern city of Rafah is now the last refuge for Palestinians. Less than 300,000 people typically inhabit the city, but now – due to Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive in other parts of central and northern Gaza – it accommodates an additional 1.4 million people.

Since the start of its brutal war on Gaza, Israel has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children, threatening to shatter the lives of tens of thousands currently settled in the crowded UN-operated tent camps and shelters near the border.

20:15 President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that a military operation in the overcrowded city of Rafah in southern Gaza should not proceed unless a plan for "ensuring the safety" of the population was laid out first, the White House said.

Biden "reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there," the White House said in a readout of the two leaders' Sunday morning call.

20:00 Israel will push into Rafah in southern Gaza despite widespread concerns over the potential toll, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a television interview aired Sunday, vowing to provide "safe passage" for civilians out of the overcrowded city.

"Victory is within reach. We're going to do it. We're going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion," Netanyahu told ABC News in an extract of the "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" interview released Saturday evening.

Despite international alarm over the potential for carnage in a place crammed with more than half of the Gaza Strip's 2.4 million people, Netanyahu said: "We're going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population."

It remains unclear, however, where the large number of people pressed up against the border with Egypt, many sheltering in makeshift tents, would go.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have warned of potentially "tens of thousands" of casualties in Rafah, while EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell joined other international voices in saying an offensive there "would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe."

Israel's main backer, the United States, has said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that, if not properly planned, such an operation risks "disaster."

When pressed about where the population was supposed to go, Netanyahu said: "You know, the areas that we've cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there. But we are working out a detailed plan."

"Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, 'Lose the war. Keep Hamas there,'" said the prime minister.

US President Joe Biden, in his strongest criticism of Israel yet, on Thursday described the Israeli military response as "over the top."

Netanyahu told ABC News he appreciated Biden's "support for Israel since the beginning of the war" but that he did not "know exactly what he meant by that."

18:00 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Doha on Sunday for talks on securing a ceasefire in Gaza with the Qatari emir, whose country has been at the heart of mediation efforts and hosts Hamas political leaders.

Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas would meet emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Monday but did not say if he would also meet leaders of Hamas, which has long been at odds with Abbas and his West Bank-based Fatah group.

The Palestinian ambassador to Qatar, Munir Ghannam, told Voice of Palestine Radio on Sunday that Abbas and the emir would discuss efforts to secure a ceasefire with Israel and ways to increase aid for Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

"Qatar plays an important role in the international efforts and mediation to reach a ceasefire. Therefore, coordination with Qatar, also with Egypt, is of special importance to bring an end to this aggression against our people," Ghannam said.

Qatar hosts the head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, as well as another senior leader in the group, Khaled Meshaal, who handles diaspora affairs in the Hamas political office..

17:00 US President Joe Biden will speak with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday, two White House officials said, in what will be the two leaders' first conversation since Biden said Israel's war on Gaza has been "over the top".

Biden, who is spending the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, was slated to speak with Netanyahu on Sunday morning, one of the officials said.

16:00 Thousands of Moroccans took to the streets of their capital today to call for an end to their country’s ties with Israel, which they denounced for “genocide” in Gaza.

In late 2020, Morocco established diplomatic ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords brokered by the United States, which saw similar moves by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

As part of the deal, Rabat received Washington’s recognition of its claim to sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

“Normalization is treason,” and “Stop the massacre,” read banners protesters carried in front of Morocco’s parliament in the center of Rabat.

AFP journalists estimated more than 10,000 people joined the rally, some of them carrying an immense Palestinian flag.


15:40 US Central Command (CENTCOM) said its forces carried out strikes on 10 February on two unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and three anti-ship cruise missiles north of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah that were threatening ships in the area.

"CENTCOM identified these USVs and missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region," it said.

15:34 US President Joe Biden and his top aides are closer to a breach with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than at any time since the Gaza War began, no longer viewing him as a productive partner who can be influenced even in private, the Washington Post reported citing several people familiar with internal discussions.

Netanyahu has angered U.S. officials on several occasions in just the past few days. He publicly denounced a captive deal while Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region trying to broker an agreement.

He also announced the Israeli army would be moving into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a move U.S. officials have publicly opposed since Rafah is packed with about 1.4 million Palestinians living in squalid conditions who fled there under Israeli orders.

The mounting frustration with Netanyahu has prompted some of Biden’s aides to urge him to be more publicly critical of the prime minister over his country’s war on Gaza, six people familiar with the conversations told the Post.

For now, the White House has rejected calls to withhold military aid to Israel or impose conditions on it.

But some of Biden’s aides argue that criticizing Netanyahu would allow him to distance himself from an unpopular leader and his scorched-earth policies while reiterating his long-standing support for Israel itself, the Post said.

14:30 Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed as "lies" an Israeli military statement that the group operated a tunnel network hundreds of metres long and running partly under UNRWA‘s Gaza HQ.

14:20 Al Jazeera has documented the shooting of a mother of her child in the Sheikh Ridwan neighbourhood in Gaza City by an Israeli sniper.

The mother was killed, according to an Al Jazeera reporter, however, the child survived.


The Israeli military also bombed residential blocks in the vicinity of the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis.

14:00 Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced that Israeli strikes on Gaza during the past 96 hours have killed two Israeli captives and seriously injured eight others.

“The conditions of the captives are becoming more dangerous in light of the inability to provide them with appropriate treatment,” Al Qassam said in a statement on Telegram.

“Israel bears full responsibility for the lives of those injured in light of their continued bombing,” the statement said.

There are reportedly about 130 or so Israeli captives held in Gaza by the Palestinian groups.


13:42 The Israeli war on the Palestinians in Gaza has devastated the economies of both the war-torn Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the International Monetary Fund’s chief says, adding that only “durable peace” will improve the outlook.

“The Palestinian economy’s dire outlook is worsening as the conflict persists,” managing director Kristalina Georgieva tells the World Governments Summit in Dubai.

“Only a durable peace and political solution will fundamentally change it."

In the Gaza Strip economic activity dropped 80 percent from October through December compared with a year earlier, while it has dropped by 22 percent, in the West Bank, the IMF chief says. 

13:40 115 trucks carrying aid and fuel crossed Egypt’s Rafah border into Gaza, while 447 individuals crossed into Egypt, including 40 injured Palestinians who were subsequently admitted for treatment at Egyptian hospitals.

13:02 Egypt is threatening to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, and says fighting there could force the closure of the territory's main aid supply route, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat told AP on Sunday.

The threat to suspend the Camp David Accords, a cornerstone of regional stability for nearly a half-century, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month-old war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

12:15 Israeli soldiers arrested three Palestinian young men today at the north entrance to the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, according to local sources, reported by WAFA.

The arrest took place while the three were passing through an Israeli checkpoint, said the Palestinian Prisoner's Society (PPS).

12:00 Israeli Maariv reports that Israel's military looted NIS 200 million (nearly $55 million) from a bank in the Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza.

11:45 A prominent Hamas official told Al-Aqsa TV that any Israeli attack on Rafah means a cessation of the captives' swap negotiations.

"Netanyahu is trying to escape from fulfilling the deal by mass slaughter and a new humanitarian disaster in Rafah," the official said.

“What Netanyahu and his Nazi army did not achieve in more than four months, he will not achieve, no matter how long the war lasts," he added.

Al-Qassam also showed scenes of a quadcopter that was seized during an intelligence mission in the northern Gaza Strip.

11:40 The Palestinian health ministry said that at least 28,176 people have been killed and 67,784 wounded in Gaza since 7 October.

The latest toll includes 112 deaths over the past 24 hours.

11:14 The Israeli occupation forces targeted the main gate of Al-Amal Hospital, causing damage to the building and knocking one of the Palestinian Red Crescent’s vehicles out of service. This vehicle was the only available means of transportation after the occupation confiscated the keys to all other ambulances, the PRCS said.

10:17 Israel to dispatch high-level delegation for hostage talks in Cairo. The team will be led by Mossad Director Dedi Barnea, Shin Bet Head Ronen Bar, and retired Major General Nitzan Alon, according to the Jerusalem Post.

They are set to meet CIA Director Bill Burns, Egyptian Intelligence Director Abbas Kamel, and the Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani to deliberate on efforts to secure the hostages' release, as informed by two high-ranking Israelis.

According to senior Israeli figures, speaking to the Israeli daily, ongoing discussions with Egypt and Qatar are focused on a captives swap deal, "with a critical deadline set for the coming Tuesday."

09:15 UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the UN agency was unaware of any Hamas infrastructure under its headquarters in the strip, saying he has visited the facility multiple times, following allegations by Israel.

On Sunday, the Israeli military claimed that it had found an underground facility under the UNRWA headquarters in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City, containing a data centre and electrical room, as well as living quarters. 

In a statement, Lazzarini wrote that UNRWA staff left its headquarters in Gaza City on 12 October following the Israeli evacuation orders and as bombardment intensified in the area.

"We have not used that compound since we left it nor are we aware of any activity that may have taken place there. We understand, through media reporting, that the Israeli Army has deployed troops within the UNRWA Headquarters in Gaza City."

"We are therefore unable to confirm or otherwise comment on these reports," he explained.

In times of “no active conflict” UNRWA inspects inside its premises every quarter, Lazzarini said, adding that "the last inspection was completed in September 2023."

Nevertheless, he said the Israeli allegations merit an "independent inquiry, which the agency is unable to perform due to the ongoing war.

Israel has been systematically targeting UNRWA for years, persisting in undermining its mission, calling for ending the definition of Palestinian refugees that includes descendants of refugees.

Israel opposes the Palestinian right of return, which is enshrined in UN Resolution 194. In 1948, following the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine, Israel expelled approximately 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. 


09:10 The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that three patients died in its Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, due to the Israeli occupation forces blocking the entry of oxygen into the hospital for nearly a week.

In a statement, the Red Crescent refuted Israeli claims that they had delivered oxygen cylinders or any other medical equipment to the hospital.

"The occupation forces claim to have brought oxygen cylinders into Al Amal Hospital, but the reality is that they prevented the entry of oxygen into the hospital for over a week," the Red Crescent said. 

"After significant pressure, we obtained approval to bring oxygen into the hospital. However, after the Red Crescent ambulance transported 25 oxygen cylinders from Nasser Hospital, the occupation insisted on placing the cylinders at the nearest point, promising to deliver them. The following day, the occupation forces only placed 21 oxygen cylinders in front of the hospital building."

Contrary to the occupation's claims of delivering medical equipment, during their raid on the hospital yesterday, they destroyed medical devices and equipment and physically assaulted the staff, arresting nine medical and administrative staff, four wounded individuals, and five patients' companions," the PRCS added.

The occupation forces also assaulted the staff, subjecting them to beatings, abuse, and humiliation. Nine members of the medical and administrative staff, along with four wounded individuals and five patient companions, were subsequently arrested.

The Red Crescent added that the Israeli occupation forces "continue to block the entry of the necessary fuel for the hospital's electricity generators, despite the fuel reserves being nearly depleted within the next two days."

It said that "the Israeli measures threaten to halt the hospital's operations amid the ongoing blockade, now in its 21st consecutive day, affecting patients, the injured, and medical and administrative staff alike."



09:00 In an interview airing Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel's army assaults on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, saying that not doing so would mean "losing the war."

More than 1.5 million civilians sheltering in Gaza’s last place of relative safety are bracing for an all-out assault.

In excerpts from an interview with the American news channel ABC NEWS, to be broadcast in full later, the PM claimed: "Victory is within reach... We will do it [the attack on Rafah]."

Netanyahu also claimed that the Israeli army would attack the Palestinian city "while ensuring safe passage for civilian populations to leave," without giving any details.

Short link: