Netanyahu says Israel will invade Rafah as Gaza ceasefire talks continue

Israeli PM Netanyahu says Israeli forces will enter the southern Gaza city ‘with or without a deal’.

Relatives of Palestinians who lost their lives after an Israeli air raid take their loved ones' bodies from the morgue of al-Najjar Hospital for burial in Rafah, Gaza on April 29, 2024 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has renewed his promise that Israel will launch a ground assault on Rafah in southern Gaza amid shaky ongoing truce talks to reach a ceasefire deal.

Netanyahu on Tuesday said Israel will destroy Hamas’ battalions there “with or without a deal” to achieve “total victory” in the nearly seven-month war.

Israel and Hamas are negotiating a potential ceasefire agreement and an exchange of hostages held by Palestinian groups in Gaza for prisoners held in Israeli jails.

“The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas’ battalions there – with or without a deal, to achieve the total victory,” the prime minister said in a meeting with families of hostages held by armed groups in Gaza.

Hamas has repeatedly said it will not accept a deal that does not include a permanent ceasefire and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza – which have been major sticking points in negotiations.

Netanyahu has for months repeatedly pledged to go ahead with an invasion of Rafah, despite public pushback from Israel’s main ally the US.

Aid agencies have warned that an assault of Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, would be catastrophic.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged Israel not to go ahead with a military assault that would “be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.”

The Israeli war on Gaza war followed the unprecedented October 7 Hamas-led raid into southern Israel in which at least 1,139 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to an Al Jazeera tally based on Israeli statistics, and about 250 others were seized as captives. Israel has said the fighters are still holding approximately 100 captives and the remains of more than 30 others.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 34,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities. The war has driven approximately 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes, mostly to southern Gaza, and caused vast destruction in several towns and cities, while pushing the north to the brink of famine.

Looming assault

Israel’s army radio said a plan to attack Rafah will get the go-ahead “in the coming days” if there is no ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Israel’s GLZ Radio attributing information to “security officials”, said in a social media post “the order will be given to launch an operation in Rafah” if progress is not made within days on “negotiations for a deal”.

Israeli media outlet N12 in a post on X reported that, according to hostage families, Netanyahu told them the evacuation of the population in Rafah has already begun.

Translation: The families of the Hero Forum: Prime Minister Netanyahu told us at the meeting that the evacuation of the population in Rafah has already begun in preparation for an operation that will happen soon, and said that all the cabinet ministers support this.

However, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said on Tuesday that “people have not yet been asked to evacuate from Rafah”.

“But there is a sense that if there is not a ceasefire deal this week, it could happen at any time,” he said during a news briefing in Geneva.

The Reuters news agency reported that “a person close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” said Israel is waiting for Hamas to respond to its proposal before sending a team to Egypt to continue ceasefire talks.

According to UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, the Israeli proposal would see a 40-day pause in fighting, rather than a permanent ceasefire as Hamas has repeatedly asked for.

A response to Israel’s latest proposal is expected from Hamas by Wednesday evening, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker reported.

Hamas reviewing proposal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not respond directly to reporters when questioned about Netanyahu’s plans to go ahead with the ground assault. He instead stressed that Washington’s focus was on reaching a truce deal and the release of hostages.

“Now it’s on Hamas. No more delays, no more excuses. The time to act is now,” Blinken told the press on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. “We want to see in the coming days this agreement coming together.”

“[A truce] is the best way, the most effective way, to relieve the suffering and also to create an environment in which we can hopefully move forward to something that is really sustainable and has lasting peace for the people who so desperately need it,” he added.

Blinken is expected to visit Israel on his latest trip to the region, which began Monday in Saudi Arabia.

Hamas said it continues to review the Israeli proposal. A senior official from the group noted it continues to ignore demands for a permanent end to the war.

“It’s clear from the Israeli paper that they are still insisting on two major issues: they don’t want a complete ceasefire and they are not talking – in a serious way – about the withdrawal from Gaza. In fact, they are still talking about their presence, which means they will continue to occupy Gaza,” Hamdan told Al Jazeera on Monday.

“We have serious questions for the mediators. If there are positive answers, I think we can move forward.”

Egypt, Qatar and the US have been mediating talks between Israel and Hamas.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies