Netanyahu vows to defy allies on Rafah invasion

Netanyahu vows to defy allies on Rafah invasion
Netanyahu vows to defy allies on Rafah invasion

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - TEL AVIV — Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reaffirmed his determination to launch an offensive in Rafah, defying international criticism.

The city is crammed with some 1.5 million Palestinians from other parts of Gaza seeking refuge.

His comments come as the German chancellor, on a Middle East trip, restated his opposition to the plan.

But Netanyahu said "no international pressure will stop Israel" from achieving all of its war aims.

"If we stop the war now before achieving all of its goals, the meaning is that Israel had lost the war and we will not allow this," Netanyahu told a meeting of his Cabinet.

He said Israel must be able to continue its war, with the aims of eliminating Hamas, releasing all hostages and ensuring Gaza "no longer pose a threat".

"To do this, we will also operate in Rafah."

Netanyahu said the offensive in city at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip "will happen" and will take "several weeks".

He also lashed out at his critics, saying to them: "Is your memory so short?

"So quickly you forgot about [Oct. 7], the worst massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust."

Those attacks, in which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were taken hostage from Israel, sparked the current war.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says more than 31,400 have been killed.

The Israeli leader is due to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz later on Sunday, who is expected to repeat his warning against a Rafah operation.

Speaking to reporters in Jordan, Scholz said a "large number of casualties in such an offensive" could destroy any hope for peace.

Israel's plans have been heavily criticized by the international community, with the UN and US also warning that a full-scale assault in Rafah could be disastrous.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the UN's World Health Organization, on Friday appealed to Israel "in the name of humanity" not to launch such an attack on Gaza's southern-most city.

US President Biden has warned Israel against expanding its invasion in the city, calling it a "red line".

Nevertheless, Netanyahu's office approved plans for a military operation in Rafah on Friday, adding that the army was preparing for the evacuation of civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it planned to move displaced Palestinians in Gaza to what it called "humanitarian islands" in the middle of the strip. It is not clear what the "islands" will look like, or how they will operate.

Speaking in Jordan, Scholz referenced the need for a truce "that lasts longer".

Ceasefire talks were expected to resume in Qatar in the coming days. Israel had planned to send a delegation to join the negotiations, but ministers were yet to agree on its mandate.

Israel has faced mounting criticism for the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as shortages of aid that have fueled fears of famine.

On Thursday, US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer called for Israel to hold elections to replace Netanyahu.

The prime minister slammed the comments as "totally inappropriate", and said they should be working instead to bring down the "Hamas tyranny". — BBC

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