Netanyahu says Israel will go into Gaza's Rafah despite international pressure

AFP , Sunday 17 Mar 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli troops would pursue a planned ground offensive in southern Gaza's Rafah that has spurred fears of mass civilian casualties.

Boys look on as they wait with displaced Palestinians queueing to receive food donated by a charity organization ahead of the fast-breaking iftar meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 2024. AFP


"No amount of international pressure will stop us from realizing all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel," Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting in a video released by his office.

"To do this, we will also operate in Rafah."

His comments came as talks were expected to resume in Doha toward a truce in Gaza.

Israeli cabinet members were set to discuss the "mandate" of the negotiations team later on Sunday, Netanyahu's office has said.

The prime minister was also due to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was expected to reiterate his warning against a ground offensive in Rafah.

The majority of Gaza's 2.4 million people have sought refuge from relentless Israeli bombardment in the southern city, near the coastal territory's border with Egypt.

US President Joe Biden, who has backed Israel during the war, has said an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a "red line" without credible civilian protection plans in place.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington wanted a "clear and implementable plan" for Rafah to ensure civilians are "out of harm's way".

The head of the UN's World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Friday appealed to Israel "in the name of humanity" not to launch an assault on Rafah.

Netanyahu's office said on Friday he had approved the military's plan for an operation in Rafah, though no timeline has been given.

Netanyahu on Sunday also criticised "those in the international community who are trying to stop the war now" by "making false accusations" against Israel and its military.

Israel has faced consistent criticism for civilian casualties in Gaza as well as stark aid shortages that have fuelled fears of famine.

On Thursday US Senate leader Chuck Schumer called for Israel to hold new elections, sparking angry pushback from Netanyahu's Likud party which said Israel "is not a banana republic".

Netanyahu said on Sunday that new elections would "stop the war, and paralyze the country for at least six months."

"If we stop the war now before all of its goals are achieved, it means that Israel has lost the war, and we will not allow that."

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