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30 Apr, 2024 15:07

Israel will invade Rafah with or without hostage deal – Netanyahu

The prime minister directly contradicted his own foreign minister, who promised to suspend the operation if Hamas released its captives
Israel will invade Rafah with or without hostage deal – Netanyahu

Israel will send troops into the city of Rafah regardless of whether it reaches a ceasefire and hostage-release deal with Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz had previously promised to cancel the controversial operation in exchange for the captives.

Situated at Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, Rafah is currently home to an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians who have fled the northern reaches of the enclave. Since October, Israel has carried out regular airstrikes in Rafah against what it claims are Hamas targets, and Netanyahu has threatened for months to launch a ground invasion of the city, despite objections from the US and UN.

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

Foreign Minister Katz had told Israel’s Channel 12 on Saturday that Israel would “suspend the operation” if Hamas agreed to release some of around 130 Israeli hostages still in its captivity in Gaza.

As Katz spoke, Hamas was studying an Israeli ceasefire proposal that would see fighting temporarily paused so that several dozen hostages could be swapped for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is set to arrive in Israel to discuss the deal later on Tuesday, has called its terms “extraordinarily generous,” and called on the militants to “decide quickly” and accept it.

It is unclear how Netanyahu’s comments will affect Hamas’ decision. The militant group has previously rejected Israel’s terms, insisting that any truce must include a path to a permanent ceasefire and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu’s hardline coalition partners, however, have demanded that the prime minister go ahead with the Rafah operation. Any compromise, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Sunday, would amount to a “humiliating surrender” for Israel. During a speech on Monday, Smotrich said Israel should seek the “total annihilation” of its enemies, Israeli media reported.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir claimed on Tuesday that Netanyahu had promised him “Israel will enter Rafah, promised that we are not stopping the war, and promised that there won’t be a reckless deal.”