Israel will invade Rafah before or after any truce deal: Netanyahu to CBS

AFP , Ahram Online , Monday 26 Feb 2024

"If we have a (truce) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen," Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu said of the ground invasion of Rafah in an interview with Face the Nation CBS Sunday.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 25, 20
Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. AP


Israel's military has proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from "areas of fighting" in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced Monday after he said a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory's southern city Rafah was necessary.

Foreign governments and aid organisations have repeatedly expressed fears that an invasion of Rafah would inflict mass civilian casualties.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians -- most of them displaced from elsewhere -- have converged on the last Gazan city untouched by Israel's ground troops.

It is also the entry point for desperately needed aid, brought in via neighbouring Egypt.

Israel's military "presented the War Cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan," a statement in Hebrew from Netayahu's office said Monday.

The statement did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

The announcement comes after Egyptian, Qatari and US "experts" met in Doha for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media reported, the latest effort to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel's ally the United States said ongoing mediation efforts produced "an understanding" towards a ceasefire and captive release, while a Hamas source said the group insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

But Netanyahu -- who has dismissed the withdrawal demand as "delusional" -- said a ground invasion of Rafah would put Israel within weeks of "total victory" over Hamas.

"It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach -- not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation."

Netanyahu told CBS that it was not clear yet whether a hostage deal would materialise from ongoing talks, declining to discuss specifics, but said Hamas needed to “come down to a reasonable situation”.

“They’re on another planet. But if they come down to a reasonable situation, then yes we’ll have a hostage deal. I hope so,” he told Face the Nation.

Meanwhile, Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Netanyahu’s comments cast doubt over Israel’s willingness to secure a deal, according to Reuters.

“Netanyahu’s comments show he is not concerned about reaching an agreement,” Abu Zuhri told Reuters, accusing the Israeli leader of wanting “to pursue negotiation under bombardment and the bloodshed (of Palestinians)," added Abu Zuhri.

Amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.

Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are "a man-made disaster" that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

"Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance."

The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.

'No aid'

Nearly five months into the war, desperate families in Gaza's north have been forced to scavenge for something to eat.

"We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children," Omar al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid trucks to arrive.

"We are trapped in the north and there is no aid reaching us -- the situation is extremely difficult."

Hundreds of Palestinians headed south whichever way they could, walking down garbage-strewn roads between the blackened shells of bombed-out buildings, said an AFP correspondent.

Israeli forces have continued striking targets across the Palestinian territory, with the health ministry saying early Monday that 92 people were killed overnight.

Israel's military campaign has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

'Expanding the conflict'

Israel's army confirmed Sunday the death of soldier Oz Daniel, 19, whose "body is still held captive," according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which said he was killed on the day of Hamas's attack.

Mediators have voiced hope that a temporary truce and a captive-prisoner exchange can be secured before the start of Ramadan on 10 or 11 March, depending on the lunar calendar.

Jordan's King Abdullah II warned fighting during the holy month "will increase the threat of expanding the conflict", according to a royal statement.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and had helped broker a one-week truce in November, is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.

Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of female, underage and ill captives for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Across from overcrowded Rafah, neighbouring Egypt has kept its border closed, saying it will not help facilitate any operation to push Palestinians out of Gaza.

Inside Israel, pressure has grown on Netanyahu from families of captives demanding swifter action, and resurgent anti-government protests.

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