Israel says ‘date set’ for Rafah invasion amid ongoing Gaza ceasefire talks

Hamas says Israel is not acceding to demands of a military withdrawal and allowing Palestinians to return home.

Palestinians who had taken refuge in Rafah, leave the city to return to Khan Yunis
Palestinians who had taken refuge in Rafah leave the city to return to battered Khan Younis after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip, on April 7, 2024 [Mohammed Abed/AFP]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a date has been set to invade Rafah in southern Gaza as truce talks with Hamas in Cairo are ongoing but do not appear close to the finish line.

In a video statement in Hebrew, Netanyahu reiterated his position that a ground military operation in Rafah, bordering Egypt, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering, is essential for victory in the war.

“It will happen. There is a date,” he said on Monday without elaborating.

He doubled down on Tuesday saying that Israel will proceed with its goal of eliminating all of Hamas’s brigades, including in Rafah.

“There is no force in the world that will stop us. There are many forces that are trying to do so, but it will not help since this enemy, after what it did, will never do it again,” Netanyahu said.

This comes as Hamas was presented with a new proposal in ceasefire talks at the end of the weekend, but one that does not appear to be able to secure a deal.

The Palestinian group confirmed in a statement that it is reviewing the proposal, but said Israel “has not responded to any of the demands of our people and our resistance”.

Senior Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zahry told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu’s remarks “raise questions about the purpose of resuming negotiations”.

“The success of any negotiations depends on ending the aggression,” said Zahry, adding that the group’s “demands are clear: an end to aggression against our people”.

Israel has so far rejected Palestinian demands of an unrestricted return of hundreds of thousands of Gaza Palestinians to the enclave’s north, and the retreat of Israeli military ground forces from the strip.

The Israeli military said it has withdrawn some of its ground forces from Gaza, but has kept the troops in charge of maintaining an east-west corridor that effectively cuts the enclave in half and prevents the return of Palestinians to the north.

The United States continues to be publicly opposed to the idea of Israel’s invasion of Rafah as it has said there are no viable plans to evacuate the large number of civilians who are in the area.

An unnamed Israeli official told The Associated Press news agency that Israel is buying 40,000 tents to prepare for the evacuation of Palestinians from Rafah.

US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters following Netanyahu’s announcement that the US has not been fully briefed on any new Rafah developments.

“We have made clear to Israel that we think a full-scale military invasion of Rafah would have an enormously harmful effect on those civilians and that it would ultimately hurt Israel’s security,” Miller said.

This comes as the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and France wrote a joint op-ed published by several media outlets, including The Washington Post and Le Monde, that called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, as demanded by a United Nations Security Council resolution passed in late March.

“We warn against the dangerous consequences of an Israeli offensive on Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge. Such an offensive will only bring more deaths and suffering, heighten the risks and consequences of mass forcible displacement of the people of Gaza and threaten regional escalation,” said the leaders.

Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera it has become apparent to Israel’s Western allies and even within the country that Netanyahu has no interest in reaching a deal “any time soon”.

“He wants more time, he wants to go to Rafah, he wants to have something he has failed to achieve so far,” Zweiri said. “He and the right wing need individuals, they need names – they talk about [Hamas leaders Yahya] Sinwar and [Mohammed] Deif, and none of this has been achieved.”

Zweiri said as long as this continues, the Israeli prime minister’s stance will remain the same out of “self-interest” to preserve his political future.

“Everyone knows, but the issue is whether the international community accept this, will accept to see more killing and more destruction for someone who is irresponsible politically and immorally is waging war on civilians,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies