Israel Advances Rafah Ground Attack Plan as Hostage Negotiations Continue

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
February 26, 2024Israel–Hamas War
On Monday, Israel Defense Forces submitted their plan to evacuate the civilian population of Rafah as the IDF plans to battle Hamas terrorists in the southern Gaza city. Israel has received international criticism for planning to conduct operations there, where over half of Gaza's population is now residing.

The Israeli military has proposed a plan for attacking Hamas forces in Rafah, the city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “presented the war cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from the areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan,” according to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Before Hamas terrorists began a massive killing and kidnapping spree in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, Rafah was home to around 250,000 people. Following four months of fighting and bombing elsewhere across the enclave, Rafah’s population has swelled to an estimated 1.4 million, according to the United Nations.

The Feb. 26 statement didn’t provide further details about where they would be moved to, or whether it would affect humanitarian aid coming from neighboring Egypt.

Israel’s war cabinet did approve a plan late on Feb. 25 to provide “humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip in a manner that will prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip and other areas,” according to Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Netanyahu spoke about the importance of a Rafah ground invasion in accomplishing all of his country’s war goals, pledging to destroy all of Hamas’s fighting force in the city.

“I’ve set three war goals,” he told CBS host Margaret Brennan. “The first is to release the hostages. The second is to destroy Hamas. And the third is to ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future.”

Mr. Netanyahu, who has been facing growing calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, reiterated that his country is seeking to achieve the three goals through a combination of fighting and negotiation. He insisted, however, that peace would have to be built on Hamas’s annihilation.

“We can’t leave Hamas in place. We can’t leave a quarter of Hamas battalions in Rafah,” he said. “It’s like saying a quarter of ISIS will be left and with a defined territory because you know, they will reconstitute themselves immediately.”

When asked about whether an anticipated IDF campaign in Rafah would materialize, Mr. Netanyahu said a Rafah operation would last weeks and could potentially wrap up the Gaza war as early as this spring.

“Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion, not months, weeks away from completion,” he said. “We’ve already destroyed 18 of the 24 Hamas terrorist battalions, and four of them are concentrated in Rafah. We can’t leave the last Hamas stronghold without taking care of it.”

‘Total Victory Is Our Goal’

Mr. Netanyahu was then pressed on what he was planning to do with the 1.4 million people who are sheltering in Rafah. He replied that the civilians could simply “go north,” where the fighting has largely been put to rest.

“The reason you have that population in Rafah is because we actually cleared them away from the other places, the combat zones that we had, that’s why they’re there,” he told Ms. Brennan. “So, now there’s room for them to go north of Rafah, to the places that we’ve already finished fighting in.”

Mr. Netanyahu spoke as Israel continued efforts to reach a deal for the release of the remaining 134 hostages held by Hamas. Those involved in the negotiations have used the pending Rafah invasion as leverage to pressure Hamas into making a deal before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which falls this year between March 11 and April 9.

Such a deal would delay the operation, but wouldn’t prevent it, Mr. Netanyahu stressed during the interview.

“If we have a deal, it’ll be delayed somewhat. But it’ll happen,” he said.

“If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway,” he added. “It has to be done. Because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach. Not months away, weeks away once we begin the operation.”

From The Epoch Times

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