Benjamin Netanyahu sets date for invasion of Rafah amid pressure over mounting civilian casualties
04/12/2024 // Richard Brown // Views

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formally announced the scheduling of a ground operation to attack Rafah, the last remaining Palestinian shelter in Gaza.

Netanyahu, addressing the nation in a brief video statement on the evening of Monday, April 8, emphasized the imperative of invading Rafah and eradicating the "terrorist factions" supposedly entrenched within the southern Gazan city. He declared that a specific date for this invasion has been set and underscored the seriousness of this planned offensive.

The decision to launch the attack reportedly comes amidst mounting pressure from various quarters. Israel's closest ally, the United States, has expressed strong apprehension regarding the potential humanitarian consequences of the offensive and has urged extreme caution.

Furthermore, members of Netanyahu's own coalition government are at odds with each other over the decision to launch a decisive military strike against supposed Hamas militants hiding out in Rafah. (Related: Extremist ministers in Netanyahu's government demand OFFENSIVE on Rafah following IDF's temporary withdrawal from Gaza.)

Rafah, right on Gaza's border with Egypt, currently has an estimated 1.4 million people, the majority of whom are internally displaced persons from other parts of Gaza. The densely populated area presents significant challenges for any military operation, raising concerns about civilian casualties and humanitarian fallout.

Netanyahu and his government have long identified the elimination of Hamas as a key objective, and have claimed that the invasion of Rafah is necessary to fulfill this goal.

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In preparation for the upcoming operation, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has announced the temporary withdrawal of most of its ground forces from southern Gaza in a move that aims to provide soldiers with sufficient rest and preparation for the forthcoming mission in Rafah.

Declarations of impending Rafah invasion might be tactic to pressure Hamas in negotiations

There is speculation among analysts that the prime minister's repeated announcements of an imminent operation in Rafah might serve as a strategy to apply pressure on Hamas during ongoing hostage negotiations, which were reportedly reaching a pivotal stage on Monday, awaiting Hamas' response to Israel's latest offer.

Responding to these developments, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller stated that Israel had not yet briefed the White House on the planned date for entering Rafah. Miller reiterated Washington's opposition to a major invasion in Rafah, emphasizing concerns about potential civilian casualties, disruption of aid routes and damage to Israel's international reputation.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also mentioned on Monday that Israel had assured the U.S. it would not initiate a major ground operation before holding an in-person follow-up meeting next week. Kirby indicated that there were no apparent signs of an imminent major ground operation or troop repositioning for such an endeavor.

The U.S. is pushing for Israel to explore alternatives to a large-scale invasion, including targeted strikes against Hamas leadership and collaboration with Cairo to secure the Egypt-Gaza border, aiming to curb smuggling and weaken the remaining fighters of Hamas. Israel has reportedly presented this plan to Egypt for consideration.

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Watch this report from Tel Aviv discussing the growing anti-Netanyahu protests in Israel.

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Netanyahu rejects UN ceasefire resolution, says hostages still in Gaza must be returned or the bombings will continue.

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