Friday, May 24, 2024

Netanyahu vows Rafah attack will occur with or without deal

(BBC News) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will launch an invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah regardless of truce talks with Hamas.

It comes amid ongoing attempts to try to reach an agreement for a ceasefire and hostage releases.

But at a meeting of hostages’ relatives, Netanyahu said he would invade “with or without” a deal.

His comments follow renewed warnings by the US against a Rafah invasion unless civilians were properly protected.

In a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday, US President Joe Biden “reiterated his clear position” on Rafah, a White House statement said. Biden has previously described an invasion of Rafah as a “red line”.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said an assault on Rafah would be an “unbearable escalation”, appealing for “all those with influence over Israel to do everything in their power to prevent it.”

More than half of Gaza’s 2.5 million population is in Rafah, having fled there to escape fighting in other parts of the territory. Conditions in the overcrowded city are dire, and displaced people there have spoken of a lack of food, water, and medication.

The West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that an invasion of Rafah would be the “biggest catastrophe in the Palestinian people’s history.”

Israeli sources told the Reuters news agency on Monday that plans to attack Rafah would be shelved in favour of a “sustained period of calm” if a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israeli was reached.

Days earlier, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Israeli Channel 12 television that “if there will be a deal, we will suspend the [Rafah] operation.”

But on Tuesday Netanyahu insisted that the war would continue until Israel had achieved all of its objectives in Rafah.

“The idea that we will halt the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question,” he said.

“We will enter Rafah, and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there with or without a deal, in order to achieve the total victory,” according to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office.

It said the families urged the prime minister and his national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, to continue the war and ignore mounting international pressure. Many hostage families, however, have publicly demonstrated for the government to agree to a deal to return their loved ones at any cost.

About 130 hostages from among 253 kidnapped by Hamas during its unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 remain unaccounted for. At least 34 of them are presumed dead. The rest have been released or rescued.

Indirect talks have been at an impasse for weeks, although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that he hoped Hamas would accept what he has called Israel’s “extraordinarily generous offer” for a truce.

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