Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he will accept nothing less than total victory over Hamas, seems to be in a race against time to achieve what he has set out to.
With growing pressure, especially from the United States that is pushing for a ceasefire to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Netanyahu has told his war cabinet that the operation in Rafah will need to be completed before Ramzan begins around March 10, The Times of Israel said, citing a Channel 12 report.
Netanyahu has asked his troops to prepare to operate in Rafah, which is one of the few areas in Gaza Strip where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) haven’t moved in yet. “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war without eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah. On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat,” the Prime Minister’s Office said on X.
Netanyahu told military officials to submit a “combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas militants holed up in Rafah, his office said. Most people living there have been displaced by fighting in other parts of Gaza and are living in tents. Rafah is the only crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.
The US State Department has said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that such a move could be potentially disastrous.
Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden was vocal in criticizing the Israeli offensive in Gaza. “I’m of the view that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” he told reporters. “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving… in trouble and dying, and it’s got to stop.”
Israeli officials say over 1,200 people died during the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on October 7 last year. More than 27,900 Palestinians have been killed and at least 67,000 injured by the war launched by Israel in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.