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Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu vows to invade Rafah ‘with or without a deal’

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to launch an incursion into Gaza City, south of Gaza. Rafahwhere hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are taking refuge in a war that has lasted for almost seven months, just as ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas appear to be gaining momentum.

Netanyahu’s comments came hours before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to arrive in Israel to advance truce negotiations – which appear to be one of the most serious rounds of negotiations between Israel and Hamas since the start of the war. The agreement aims to free the hostages, provide some relief to the population and avoid an Israeli offensive on Rafah and potential harm to civilians.

Netanyahu said Israel would enter Rafah, which Israel says is Hamas’ last stronghold, whether or not a truce deal for the hostages is reached. His comments appeared intended to appease his ruling nationalist partners, but it was unclear whether they would have any influence on a possible deal with Hamas.

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

The United States has repeatedly said it opposes the Rafah operation until Israel presents a credible plan to evacuate and protect the estimated 1.5 million people seeking refuge there.

Blinken, speaking in Jordan before flying to Israel, said the “focus” was currently on improving the humanitarian situation and reaching a ceasefire agreement that would bring back the Israeli hostages at home. He said Israel had presented a “strong proposal” and called on Hamas to respond.

“No more delays. No more excuses. The time to act is now,” he said. “We want to see this agreement come to fruition in the coming days. »

Netanyahu has been under pressure from his ruling partners not to reach a deal that could prevent Israel from invading Rafah. His government could be threatened if it agreed to a deal, as hardline Cabinet members have demanded an attack on Rafah.

Netanyahu met with one of those partners, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, on Tuesday, according to the minister’s office, who said Netanyahu had promised him that “Israel would enter Rafah, promised that we would not “We wouldn’t stop the war and promise that it would win.” This is not a reckless affair.

With more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants refuge in RafahThe international community, including Israel’s main ally, the United States, has warned Israel against any offensive that endangers civilians.

Netanyahu spoke Tuesday to the Tikva Forum, a small group of hostage families separate from the main group representing the families of Israeli prisoners. The forum said it would rather see Hamas crushed because of the freedom of those close to it. Most of the families and their supporters have demonstrated by the thousands every week for a deal that would bring the hostages home, saying it should take priority over military action.

Netanyahu’s coalition is made up of ultranationalist and conservative religious parties, and the Israeli leader’s critics say his decisions during the war have been motivated by political considerations rather than national interests, a charge Netanyahu denies. His government could collapse if one of the parties opposed to a deal withdraws, a scenario Netanyahu would try to avoid given that his support has fallen in opinion polls since the start of the war, even if it experienced a slight gradual increase.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the ultranationalist Religious Zionist party, said Monday he seeks the “total annihilation” of Israel’s enemies, appearing to refer to Hamas, in a recorded portion of his remarks during an event marking the end of the Passover festival. which were broadcast in Israeli media.

“You can’t do half a job,” he said.

The agreement currently under discussion, negotiated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, would provide for the release of dozens of hostages in exchange for a six-week cessation of fighting as part of an initial phase, according to an Egyptian official and Israeli media. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be released, some serving long sentences.

Blinken, who was meeting with regional leaders from Saudi Arabia and Jordan before landing in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, on Monday urged Hamas to accept the latest proposal, calling it “extraordinarily generous” on Israel’s part.

But a point of friction remains over the course of events. Hamas demanded assurances that the eventual release of all hostages would end Israel’s nearly seven-month assault on Gaza and lead to the withdrawal of its troops from the devastated territory. Israel has only offered an extended pause, pledging to resume its offensive once the first phase of the deal is complete. This issue has repeatedly hampered mediators’ efforts during months of talks.

The war between Israel and Hamas was sparked by Unprecedented October 7 raid in southern Israel during which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are he still holds around a hundred hostages and the remains of more than 30 other people.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities. The war has driven around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents from their homes, caused widespread destruction in several towns and pushed northern Gaza back. on the verge of starvation.


Lee reported from Amman, Jordan.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war at

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