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Netanyahu: Israel to Push Ahead With Rafah Incursion

People walk past the rubble of Al-Faruq Mosque, that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment, in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024.
People walk past the rubble of Al-Faruq Mosque, that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment, in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rebuffed international pressure, vowing that Israel would push ahead with an attack on Hamas militants in Rafah near the Gaza-Egyptian border, even as cease-fire talks were set to resume in Qatar in the coming days.

"No amount of international pressure will stop us from realizing all the goals of the war,” to erase any Hamas control in Gaza, Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting in a video released by his office. “To do this, we will also operate in Rafah,” although he gave no indication of an imminent attack.

He later told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Israel would “keep on trying” to agree on a six-week cease-fire in the war with Hamas, now in its sixth month. But to achieve that, he said, “We’re going to maintain military pressure.”

Netanyahu said it was “totally inappropriate” for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish-American official, to call last week for new Israel elections as he contended that Netanyahu has “lost his way” in the country’s bombardment of Gaza.

"I think the only government that we should be working on to bring down now is the terrorist tyranny in Gaza, the Hamas tyranny that murdered over a thousand Israelis," Netanyahu said.

Schumer, long an ally of the Jewish state, said Netanyahu risks making his country a “pariah” in world affairs as tens of thousands of Palestinians are famished and many dying of malnutrition as Israel has for months limited truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza through time-consuming security checkpoints.

Netanyahu said, “The majority of Israelis support what we’re doing. If we don’t win the war, America loses, too.”

“The problem isn’t getting aid into Gaza,” he said. “The problem is that it’s looted by Hamas, looted by gangs.”

Netanyahu told CNN it is “both cynical and factually wrong to blame Israel” for the ongoing war.

He earlier told his Cabinet, “To our friends in the international community I say, Is your memory so short? So quickly you forgot about October 7, the worst massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust?"

"So quickly you are ready to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the monsters of Hamas?" he said.

The war started with the Hamas October terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and the Hamas capture of about 250 hostages. Health officials in Gaza say Israel’s ongoing counteroffensive has killed more than 31,600 people, the biggest majority women and children, displaced more than half the Gaza population of 2.3 million and leveled much of the territory’s infrastructure and homes.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Jordan before a planned visit to Israel, said an assault on Rafah would make regional peace "very difficult" and that efforts now were "about ensuring we come to a long-lasting cease-fire."

Palestinians line up to fill containers with water in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024.
Palestinians line up to fill containers with water in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024.

Netanyahu has said Israel has a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah before any ground offensive there but has not laid out plans of where they would go.

A source familiar with the truce talks in Qatar told Reuters the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency would join the delegation attending the negotiations with Qatari, Egyptian and U.S. mediators.

Hamas presented a new cease-fire proposal last week including an exchange of about 40 Israeli hostages for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Israel's security Cabinet is to meet to discuss it before the delegation leaves.

Netanyahu has already said the proposal was based on "unrealistic demands" by Hamas but a Palestinian official familiar with mediation efforts said chances for a deal looked better with Hamas having given more details on the proposed prisoner swap.

"The mediators felt positive about Hamas' new proposal. Some in Israel felt the group made some improvement on its previous position and it is now in the hands of Netanyahu alone to say whether an agreement is imminent," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in an apparent reference to the negotiations, said the security establishment "is committed to exhausting every possibility and willing to take advantage of every possibility, including the current one, to return the hostages to their families."

Some material in this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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