Israel to push into Rafah, civilians can leave: PM

Israeli officials say Rafah residents will be allowed to leave when an operation starts in the city.

Israeli officials say Rafah residents will be allowed to leave when an operation starts in the city. Photo: AAP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will not leave civilians trapped in Rafah when its forces begin a long-expected assault on the southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians have taken shelter.

“It’s not something we will do while keeping the population locked in place. In fact, we’ll do the very opposite, we will enable them to leave,” he said during a press statement in Jerusalem with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The German chancellor said that an Israeli assault on Rafah would make regional peace “very difficult”.

Netanyahu earlier on Sunday dismissed international pressure and said he would keep on with the military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, where aid agencies say famine is looming, while ceasefire talks were set to resume.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel would push into Rafah, the last relatively safe place in the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip enclave after more than five months of war.

“We will operate in Rafah. This will take several weeks, and it will happen,” he said, without clarifying if he meant the assault would last for weeks or would begin in weeks.

Israel’s allies have repeatedly urged Netanyahu not to attack Rafah without a plan to protect civilians.

Scholz said efforts were now “about ensuring we come to a long-lasting ceasefire”.

Netanyahu hit out at the pressure from allies, saying: “Are your memories that short? Have you so quickly forgotten October 7, the most horrific massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? Are you so quick to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the Hamas monsters?”.

He has previously said Israel has a plan to evacuate Rafah but aid agencies and Israel’s allies remain sceptical.

Hamas fighters killed 1200 people and seized 253 hostages in the October 7 attack according to Israeli tallies, triggering a massive assault on Gaza.

Israel’s air and ground campaign in the enclave has killed more than 31,600 people say health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza, driven most of the population from their homes and brought them to the brink of famine according to aid agencies.

A source familiar with the truce talks in Qatar told Reuters the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency would join the delegation attending the negotiations with Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators.

Hamas presented a new ceasefire proposal last week including an exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

Israel’s security cabinet is to meet to discuss it before the delegation leaves.

Netanyahu has already said the proposal was based on “unrealistic demands” but a Palestinian official familiar with mediation efforts said chances for a deal looked better with Hamas having given more details on the proposed prisoner swap.

“The mediators felt positive about Hamas’ new proposal. Some in Israel felt the group made some improvement on its previous position and it is now in the hands of Netanyahu alone to say whether an agreement is imminent,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, in an apparent reference to the negotiations, said the security establishment “is committed to exhausting every possibility and willing to take advantage of every possibility, including the current one, to return the hostages to their families”.

Trucks of flour have reached northern Gaza for distribution to areas that have had no aid in four months, Palestinian media reported on Sunday.

A convoy of 12 trucks arrived in the north on Saturday – six in Gaza City and six in the Jabalia refugee camp – carrying supplies to also be distributed to the northernmost areas of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, the media and residents said.

Aid agencies have warned that pockets of Gaza already face famine, with hospitals in the north reporting children dying of malnutrition and dehydration.


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