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Netanyahu says Rafah offensive will happen with or without cease-fire and hostage release deal


A Palestinian man walks past as a woman stands at the entrance of a tent in an area housing displaced people in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 30, 2024.
A Palestinian man walks past as a woman stands at the entrance of a tent in an area housing displaced people in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 30, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to carry out a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah regardless of whether there is an agreement with Hamas for a cease-fire and release of hostages held in Gaza.

“The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas' battalions there — with a deal or without a deal, to achieve the total victory,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying in a meeting with families of hostages.

Netanyahu has said it is necessary for Israeli forces to enter Rafah to fully defeat Hamas, which carried out an attack on Israel in October that killed 1,200 people.

Hamas also took about 250 hostages during the attack, and it is believed to still be holding about 100, along with the remains of 30 or more hostages who have either been killed or otherwise died in the ensuing months.

More than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering in Rafah, located along the border between Gaza and Egypt.

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“A military assault on Rafah would be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.

“I appeal for all those with influence over Israel to do everything in their power to prevent it,” he added.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths later added his own plea.

"The world has been appealing to the Israeli authorities for weeks to spare Rafah, but a ground operation there is on the immediate horizon," he said in a statement.

"The simplest truth," Griffiths said, "is that a ground operation in Rafah will be nothing short of a tragedy beyond words."

Many Palestinians fled to Rafah to escape Israeli attacks, and the United Nations has warned of a potential humanitarian disaster if Israel conducts a major ground offensive in the city.

Guterres also said scaling up aid to Gaza is urgent, especially to the north where some people, including children, have already begun to die from hunger and disease.

“We must do everything possible to avert an entirely preventable, human-made famine,” he said. “We have seen incremental progress recently, but much more is urgently needed — including the promised opening of two crossing points between Israel and northern Gaza, so that aid can be brought into Gaza from Ashdod port and Jordan.”

The White House said Monday U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to work with Egypt and Qatar to ensure the implementation of a proposed cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In phone calls with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Biden urged the leaders to do all they can to push for the release of hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

A White House statement described the hostage release as “the only obstacle to an immediate ceasefire and relief for the people of Gaza.”

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have been involved in months of talks aimed at halting the war. A proposal now under consideration includes a cease-fire lasting about six weeks, the release of hostages held by Hamas, the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and an increase in humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Hamas officials met with representatives from Egypt and Qatar in Cairo on Monday to discuss the proposal.

The talks come as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting the region to discuss the situation with officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.

Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,500 people, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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