Netanyahu vows to invade Rafah ‘with or without a deal’

Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will destroy Hamas' battalions in Rafah "with or without a deal".

Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will destroy Hamas' battalions in Rafah "with or without a deal". Photo: AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch an offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza despite calls for restraint.

He said Israel will destroy Hamas’ battalions there “with or without a deal” currently being discussed in talks in Cairo.

Israel and Hamas are negotiating a ceasefire agreement meant to free hostages and bring some relief to the Palestinians in the besieged enclave.

“The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the questions. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas’ battalions there – with a deal or without a deal, to achieve the total victory,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with families of hostages held by militants in Gaza.

Earlier the United States stepped up pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza amid a new proposal to Hamas and continued Israeli air strikes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ahead of a visit to Israel this week, urged Hamas to accept the latest proposal, calling it “extraordinarily generous” on Israel’s part.

The terms were not made public. But according to an Egyptian official and Israeli media, Israel has softened its position, lowering the number of hostages it demands that Hamas free during the initial six-week phase of the ceasefire in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

One question is whether that will be enough to overcome Hamas concerns over the ceasefire’s second phase.

Hamas has demanded assurances that an eventual release of all hostages will bring a complete end to Israel’s nearly seven-month assault in Gaza and a withdrawal of its troops from the devastated territory.

Israel has offered only an extended pause, vowing to resume its offensive once it is over. The issue has repeatedly obstructed efforts by US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators during months of talks.

Overnight and Monday morning, strikes flattened at least three homes where extended families of Palestinians were gathered.

The dead included nine women and six children, one just five days old, according to hospital records and an Associated Press reporter.

“Everyone was sleeping in their beds,” said Mahmoud Abu Taha, whose cousin was killed with his wife and their year-old baby in a house where at least 10 died. “They have nothing to do with anything.”

Egypt has stepped up mediation efforts for a ceasefire in hopes of averting an assault on Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

An Egyptian official said Israel had lowered the number of hostages it wants freed in the first stage, down from earlier demands for 40. He did not specify the new number.

Israeli media said it now seeks the release of 33 hostages in return for the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners. Hamas is believed to hold around 100 Israelis in Gaza.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas or Israeli officials.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, appeared increasingly concerned that the International Criminal Court may issue arrest warrants against the country’s leaders.

It was not clear what sparked the concerns. The ICC launched a probe three years ago into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants going back to the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

The probe is also looking at Israel’s construction of settlements in occupied territory the Palestinians want for a future state.

There was no comment from the court on Monday, and it has given no indication warrants in the case are imminent.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry said late Sunday that it had informed Israeli missions of “rumours” that warrants might be issued against senior political and military officials.

Neither Israel nor the US accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, but any warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries.

They would also serve as a major rebuke of Israel’s actions at a time when pro-Palestinian protests have spread across US college campuses.

The International Court of Justice, a separate body, is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza, with any ruling expected to take years. Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused both international courts of bias.

In the Hamas-led attack on October 7, militants stormed through army bases and farming communities across southern Israel, killing about 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostages.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive in Gaza has killed at least 34,488 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its tally.

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