Palestinian Territory. Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday ordered the army to “prepare” an offensive in Rafah, the city in the southern Gaza Strip where Palestinians displaced by the war against Hamas are concentrated, and rejected any concessions in negotiations for a truce.
“We have given the order to the Israeli defense forces to prepare an operation in Rafah, as well as in two (refugee) camps, the last remaining strongholds of Hamas,” Benjamin Netanyahu explained in a television message.
He also rejected the idea of a cessation of hostilities, assuring that victory against the Palestinian Islamist movement is “a matter of months” thanks to “continuing military pressure.”
These statements coincided with a visit to Israel by the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, who expressed on Wednesday his hope to reach an agreement to free the hostages.
“There is a lot of work to be done, but we are very focused on doing it and, hopefully, we can continue the release of the hostages that have been interrupted,” Blinken stated in Jerusalem, referring to the hundreds of hostages released in the end in November during a week-long ceasefire.
A new round of negotiations will begin on Thursday in Cairo, hosted by Egypt and Qatar. The goal is to reach “a ceasefire, the end of the war and the exchange of prisoners,” reported an Egyptian official.
A Hamas source assured that the terrorist group agreed to participate in the negotiations. Last week, another Hamas source said the proposal included a six-week ceasefire and a prisoner exchange, as well as more aid for Gaza.
But negotiations have continued since then. On his fifth tour of the Middle East since the beginning of the conflict, on October 7, Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
Pressure for a ceasefire is mounting as Israeli forces advance on Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, where more than half the population of the tiny Palestinian territory has taken refuge.
From Jerusalem, Blinken urged more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, whose 2.4 million inhabitants suffer from shortages of water, food, medicine and fuel.
“We all have an obligation to do everything possible to bring the necessary aid to those who need it most,” he insisted, before traveling to the occupied West Bank, where he met with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, warned that if the Israeli army invades Rafah, it will “add to what is already a humanitarian nightmare with incalculable consequences in the region.”
The war broke out on October 7 with a Hamas attack in southern Israel that left more than 1,160 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli data.
Islamist militants also kidnapped about 250 people and about 132 remain in Gaza, including 29 who are believed to have died.
In response, Israel launched a military offensive that killed 27,708 people in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry of Hamas, which rules the territory.
At least 123 people have died in the last 24 hours, the same source said.
Fear is constant among the overcrowded residents of Gaza’s southern tip.
“The thought of Israel starting a ground operation in Rafah scares me,” Dana Ahmed, 40, who fled Gaza City with her three children, said from Rafah.
“I can’t imagine what will happen to us,” he said. “Where are we going now? The situation is catastrophic. “I feel like I’m living a horror movie,” he added.
Israel destroyed the tunnel
Israel has reported that it will enter Rafah to search for Hamas fighters.
This Wednesday, the army announced the discovery and subsequent destruction of more than 1 kilometer of tunnel where Hamas has held about 12 hostages since October.
In recent weeks, violence has also increased in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where Iran-backed groups have launched attacks in support of Hamas, prompting responses from Israel. , the United States and their allies.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Anden for weeks in solidarity with the Palestinians, actions that have affected global maritime trade and prompted responses from the United States and the United Kingdom.