According to Hamas, a possible ground attack by the Israeli army in Rafah would destroy any negotiations for the release of the hostages. Hamas-run TV station Aqsa quoted a high-ranking representative of the militant group as saying on Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier promised a “safe passage” for hundreds of thousands of civilians seeking safety there.
“We were not negligent in this matter,” Netanyahu said in an interview with American broadcaster “ABC News,” from which the station reported excerpts Sunday night. The public will be provided with a “safe corridor” so that they can leave the area. Asked where the more than one million Palestinians in the city, which borders Egypt, should go, Netanyahu said “a detailed plan” had been drawn up.
Netanyahu also spoke by phone on Sunday with US President Joe Biden, who has criticized recent Israeli military strikes. Biden offered to ensure the safety of refugees in Rafah, according to the US President's Office after the conversation. The US President has insisted that Israel should not take military action without a plan to ensure the safety of the approximately one million people who have sought protection. Days earlier, Biden said Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip were “excessive.” The dialogue also covered ongoing efforts to free hostages taken by the radical Islamist group Hamas during the October 7 attack on Israel.
In recent days, the US government has spoken out against military action in Rafah. “We believe that a military action at this time would be devastating for these people,” said John Kirby, director of communications for the National Security Council. “We will not support that.” Austria also joined the international criticism, expressing “deep concern” about Israel's plans to attack Rafah.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and consequences for the entire region. Half the population of the Gaza Strip is packed into Rafah with nowhere else to go, he wrote on the online site X. Egypt fears that a massive military operation in Rafah could lead to a rush of desperate Palestinians to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
On Friday, Netanyahu ordered his country's military to prepare an attack on Rafah. His office reported that he said the war goal of eliminating Hamas would be impossible if four Hamas brigades remained in Rafah. The military leadership's plans should include the evacuation of civilians. Victory is “within reach,” he told “ABC News” now. “We will do it. We will capture the remaining Hamas terror battalions in Rafah, the last stronghold,” Netanyahu said.
The Gaza war was sparked by an unprecedented massacre by terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups in southern Israel on October 7. More than 1,200 people were killed on the Israeli side. Israel responded with massive airstrikes and ground attacks. According to Palestinian statistics, 112 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours. The local health authority said 173 people were injured. A total of 28,176 Palestinians have died and 67,784 have been injured since the start of the war.