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Netanyahu wants to launch assault on Rafah despite efforts towards truce

Photo: Saïd Khatib Agence France-Presse A little girl walks among debris on a street in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

Shaun Tandon – Agence France-Presse and Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse respectively in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip

7:57 p.m.

  • Middle East

The Israeli prime minister ordered the army on Wednesday to “prepare” the offensive on Rafah, where Palestinians displaced by the war against Hamas are massed, rejecting any concession in negotiations in view of a truce in the Gaza Strip.

“We ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to prepare an operation in Rafah as well as in two [refugee] camps, the last remaining strongholds of Hamas,” explained Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech on television, the day the war was entering its fifth month.

He dismissed the idea of ​​a pause in fighting, assuring that victory against the Palestinian Islamist movement was “a matter of months” thanks to “continued military pressure”.< /p>

“Capitulating to the delusional demands of Hamas […] would not only not lead to the release of the hostages, but would lead to another massacre,” he said.

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This announcement comes while the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, is in Israel as part of a regional tour to discuss a truce agreement.

Mr. Blinken had previously reiterated that there remained “a lot of work” to reach an agreement including the release of hostages held in the Palestinian territory, on the eve of the opening in Cairo of a new round of negotiations, sponsored by the Egypt and Qatar, according to an Egyptian official.

“Living in a horror film”

The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack carried out on Israeli soil by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count. made from official Israeli data.

About 250 people were kidnapped that day. According to Israel, 132 hostages are still being held in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.

In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, and launched an offensive that left 27,708 people dead in the Palestinian territory, the vast majority of them women, children and adolescents, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

Khan Younes, in the south of the Palestinian territory, and the neighboring town of Rafah, refuge for hundreds of thousands of displaced people who fear a ground assault, were again the target of Israeli bombings on Wednesday, according to an AFP journalist.

“We didn’t sleep all night. The noise of the planes did not stop. The bombings became so close and so violent. I am terrified that Israel will launch a ground operation on Rafah,” Dana Ahmed, a 40-year-old woman who fled the northern Gaza city and is living in a tent, told AFP in Rafah.

“I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to us,” she added. Where will we go ? I feel like I’m watching a horror movie. »

Crammed together in Rafah

After Egypt and Qatar on Tuesday, the American Secretary of State went to Jerusalem on Wednesday, then to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, for his fifth tour in the region since the start of the war. It supports a truce proposal drawn up by American, Qatari and Egyptian officials at the end of January in Paris, to which Hamas responded.

Following an interview with Mr. Netanyahu, he said he hoped to “resume the release of the hostages which was interrupted”, in allusion to a first one-week truce at the end of November. In total, 105 hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were released.

He also discussed “additional steps” to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip, which is besieged by Israel and plunged into a major humanitarian crisis.

Antony Blinken's visit “is a nightmare”, because with each visit, Israel “intensifies its attacks to show him that it refuses any truce”, affirmed Mohammad Abou Nada, who came to pay his respects at the Najjar hospital in Rafah on the remains of a relative killed in a strike.

Approximately 1.7 million people, according to the UN, have been displaced by the war out of the 2.4 million inhabitants of the small devastated territory.

After fleeing the fighting further north, more than 1.3 million displaced people, according to the UN, are crowded together in desperate conditions in Rafah, five times the initial population of this neighboring city on the closed border with Egypt.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned of the “incalculable regional consequences” of a possible assault on Rafah that would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare.” .

“All lives are equal”

According to a Hamas source, the truce project includes a six-week pause in fighting, an exchange of 200 to 300 Palestinian prisoners for 35 to 40 hostages, and the increased entry of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

A Hamas source close to the matter confirmed to AFP that his group's objective was “a cease-fire, an end to the war and an exchange of prisoners”.

But Israel, which considers the Palestinian Islamist movement a terrorist organization, as do the United States, Canada and the European Union, maintains that it will only end its offensive once once Hamas is eliminated and the hostages are released.

In France, where tribute was paid Wednesday to the French victims of the October 7 attack, President Emmanuel Macron denounced “the greatest anti-Semitic massacre of our century,” adding that “all lives are equal” in “ rifts” of the Middle East.

In Tel Aviv, several hundred people attended the live broadcast of the ceremony. “Mr Macron has shown us his support and I hope he will not stop and continue to fight for us,” Hadas Kalderon told AFP. His mother and 12-year-old niece died on October 7, and his father remains held hostage in Gaza.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116