Israel will carry out an offensive in Rafah - with or without US support: Netanyahu to Blinken

AFP , Ahram Online , Friday 22 Mar 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday that Israel intended to carry out an offensive in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, even if the United States were not to support it.

File Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at press conference after a meeting in Tel Aviv. AP

"I said that we did not have the possibility of defeating Hamas without entering Rafah and without eliminating the battalions that remained there," Netanyahu said in a statement after his meeting in Tel Aviv with the top US diplomat.

"I told him that I hoped to do it with the support of the United States. But if we have to - we will do it alone," he said.

"I told him that I appreciated the fact that we had been united in the war against Hamas for over five months."

"I also told him that we recognized the need to evacuate the civilian population from the war zones and to take care of humanitarian needs, and, of course, we are working in this direction,” said Netanyahu.

The two men spoke for about 40 minutes Friday morning.

What did Blinken tell Netanyahu?

Speaking to reporters before leaving Tel Aviv, Blinken said that he had a candid conversation with Netanyahu on the release of hostages, increasing Humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the Rafah issue.

He told reporters that he stressed to PM Netanyahu the US shares Israel's goal of defeating Hamas and ensuring Israel’s long-term security but a major ground offensive in Rafah is not the way to achieve this.

A major ground operation in Rafah risks more killing of innocent civilians; risks creating greater havoc on the humanitarian situation in the strip; risks increasing  Israeli isolation around the world; and risks Israeli security and integration in the region, the top US diplomat told reporters.

For weeks, Israel has been threatening a major ground offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza where more than 1.5 million people are packed, the vast majority of them displaced by the Israeli war on the strip, according to the UN.

“We also talked about post-war plans for Gaza,” Blinken told reporters.

The US is determined Israel comes out of this stronger and that an attack on Israel like the 7 October attack would never happen again, he said.

The US has a team of negotiators in Doha who are working with the Qataris, Egyptians and Israelis to reach an agreement on a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and the release of hostages, added Blinken.

The negotiations in Doha are close to the goal line but the closer to the goal line the harder things get to hash out final details, he added.

In an answer to a question from reporters on the Israeli announcement of the seizure of more land in the occupied West Bank to build new settlements, Blinken said: “You know our position on settlements. We have a problem with any unilateral step that makes a two-state settlement harder.”

In an answer to another question on the defeat of a US resolution in the UNSC earlier on Friday, the top US diplomat said the Russian and Chinese veto was a "cynical" move.

"On the resolution, which got very strong support, but then was cynically vetoed by Russia and China, I think we were trying to show the international community a sense of urgency about getting a ceasefire," Blinken said.

The US draft resolution, which declared a ceasefire in the Gaza war is “imperative” without demanding one, failed to pass after Russia and China vetoed the proposal.

Earlier in the day, 11 members of the 15-member UNSC voted for the draft resolution while Algeria voted against and Guyana abstained.

While in Israel, Blinken also attended the Israeli war cabinet meeting and met with families of captives in Gaza.

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