Israel PM orders troops to ready for push into crowded Rafah

Feb 8, 2024

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered soldiers prepare for admission Gazathe crowded southern city of RefaEven as new talks aimed at securing a cease-fire with Hamas were set to begin in Cairo on Thursday.
Netanyahu announced the order after dismissing Hamas's response to a ceasefire proposal at the center of recent intense diplomatic efforts, which he dismissed as “bizarre demands” from the terrorist group.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – in Israel as part of his fifth Middle East crisis tour since the October 7 attack – stressed that he still saw “room for compromise” to stop the fighting and bring the hostages home. Has been.
Heavy fighting continued, with more airstrikes hitting Hamas-ruled Gaza, now in its fifth month of war, where the health ministry said 109 people were killed overnight.
The alarm is being raised especially among the more than one million Palestinians concentrated in Gaza's far south as the battle front approaches the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday that Israeli troops' entry into the city would “exponentially escalate what is already a humanitarian nightmare”.
The Israeli military said Thursday it was operating in both the north and south of the Gaza Strip and had killed 30 “terrorists” across the territory.
“Two terrorists who participated in the October 7 massacre” were also arrested, it said, as well as a member of a Hamas commando unit.
In televised remarks on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to “be ready for operations” in Rafah and predicted there would be “complete victory” in the coming months.
Regarding the ceasefire proposal, he said: “Caving in to Hamas's bizarre demands, which we have just heard…will only invite another genocide.”
Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv that Hamas' counteroffer at least provided an opportunity to “move the conversation forward.”
“Although there are some obvious non-starters in the Hamas response, we think it creates space to reach an agreement, and until we get there,” Blinken said hours after meeting Netanyahu. We will continue to work on that.”
He later met with moderates in Netanyahu's war cabinet, including Benny Gantz and Gabi Eisenkot, for talks on “the hostages and the strong desire we both have to see them returned to their families”, and also with Israel's main opposition leader Yair Had a conversation. Lapid.
– Cairo talks –
A new round of talks is set to begin in Cairo on Thursday, an Egyptian official said, aimed at achieving “peace” in Gaza and a prisoner-hostage swap.
Egypt is urging “both sides to show the flexibility necessary to reach a compromise,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hamas said a delegation led by Khalil al-Hayya, a key member of the group's political bureau, was traveling to Cairo on Thursday.
The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas' unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of some 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched airstrikes and ground attacks, killing at least 27,840 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The terrorists also captured about 250 hostages on October 7. Israel says 132 people remain in Gaza, 29 of whom have died.
The fate of the hostages has roiled Israeli society, and while Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that military pressure is the only way to bring them home, he has faced growing calls to sign a deal.
Addressing the prime minister, Adina Moshe, one of the hostages released as part of a temporary ceasefire in November, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv: “Everything is in your hands.”
“And I am very scared and very concerned that if you continue this line of destroying Hamas, there will be no hostages left to release.”
– 'Desperate Situations' –
As Israel prepares to advance further south, fears have grown for displaced Palestinian civilians in Rafah, pressed against Gaza's southern border with Egypt.
More than half of Gaza's 2.4 million people are estimated to have sought safety in the city, according to the United Nations.
“Their living conditions are extremely poor,” said Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief. “They lack the basic necessities to survive due to hunger, disease and death.
“As the war drags on in Rafah, I am extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of the families who have endured the unimaginable in their quest for safety.”
Blinken stopped short of calling on Israel not to advance on the city, but expressed concern. “Any military operation by Israel must first involve civilians,” he said.
The Gaza war has led to an increase in violence across the region by Iran-backed groups acting in solidarity with Hamas, prompting retaliatory strikes by Israel and the United States and its allies.
A US airstrike in Iraq on Wednesday killed a senior commander of a pro-Iranian armed group who US Central Command said was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces”.
The attack came after Washington last week launched a wave of attacks on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria following the killing of three US soldiers in neighboring Jordan.

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