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Israel will enter Rafah regardless of Gaza hostage deal, Netanyahu says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Tuesday that Israel will proceed with a military operation targeting Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, regardless of whether a ceasefire or a hostage release deal is reached.

“The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “We will enter Rafah, and we will eliminate Hamas’ battalions there – with or without a deal, to achieve total victory.”

Netanyahu made these remarks shortly before the arrival of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Israel, who aims to advance the truce discussions, marking a significant effort in negotiations since the conflict began. The proposed deal aims to secure the release of hostages, provide relief to civilians, and prevent an Israeli offensive in Rafah that could endanger civilians.

Netanyahu vows military action in Rafah

Addressing a gathering of bereaved families and an organization representing hostages’ families, Netanyahu affirmed Israel’s intent to enter Rafah and dismantle Hamas’ military units, regardless of the outcome of ceasefire talks. He emphasized the commitment to achieving “total victory” in the conflict.

The Prime Minister faces pressure from nationalist coalition partners who oppose any agreement that might forestall an Israeli incursion into Rafah, deemed Hamas’ main stronghold. Netanyahu’s government could face internal challenges if he agrees to a ceasefire deal, as hardline Cabinet members advocate for military action.

However, with a significant portion of Gaza’s population sheltering in Rafah, international concerns, including from Israel’s ally, the US, warn against any offensive risking civilian lives.

Netanyahu’s statements raise questions about their impact on ongoing negotiations with Hamas and whether they aim to appease his governing coalition or signal a shift in strategy.

Meanwhile, discussions for a potential ceasefire deal, facilitated by the US, Egypt, and Qatar, involve the release of dozens of hostages in exchange for a six-week cessation of hostilities. However, disagreements persist over the subsequent steps, with Hamas insisting on a complete cessation of Israeli military operations in Gaza.

Conditional pause

Israel has offered only a temporary pause in its offensive, pledging to resume military action once the initial phase of the agreement concludes. This issue has been a recurring obstacle in months of negotiation efforts.

Netanyahu has consistently rejected the notion of halting military operations in exchange for hostage releases, emphasizing the importance of targeting Hamas in Rafah. The conflict originated from a raid by militants into southern Israel, resulting in casualties and abductions, with hundreds of hostages still held by the militants, according to Israeli authorities.

The protracted conflict in Gaza has led to significant Palestinian casualties, widespread displacement, extensive destruction, and food shortages, highlighting the urgent need for a resolution.

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