Netanyahu says Rafah battle ‘critical’ for Gaza campaign

Netanyahu says Rafah battle ‘critical’ for Gaza campaign
Netanyahu says Rafah battle ‘critical’ for Gaza campaign

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

JERUSALEM, May 17 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel’s controversial ground assault on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah was crucial to its fight against Palestinian militants.

“The battle in Rafah is critical... it is a fight that decides many things in this campaign,” he said, shortly after Israel announced the deaths of five soldiers in Gaza.

Since Hamas’ unprecedented attack on October 7, Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement have been locked in their bloodiest war yet in the Gaza Strip.

Defying a chorus of international objection, Israeli ground forces moved into eastern Rafah on May 7 and ordered the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

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Israel’s closest ally the United States has expressed firm objections to the expansion of operations in Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have been sheltering.

Israel forces insist that Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold in the territory, despite the resumption of intense fighting in areas of northern Gaza previously announced cleared.

“It’s not just the rest of their battalions, it’s also like an oxygen line for them for escape and resupply,” Netanyahu said.

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“Its completion advances us a huge distance to defeating the enemy,” he added in the statement released by his office.

Since Israel issued its first evacuation order for Rafah on May 6, the UN says some 600,000 people have fled.

Netanyahu’s comments come after disagreements within his war cabinet over the post-war administration of Gaza have come into the open.

“I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday, urging a “governing alternative to Hamas” immediately.

Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel more than seven months ago resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,272 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. — AFP

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