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Israel will move ahead with Rafah operation – with or without a hostage deal, says PM Netanyahu

‘No decision, neither at The Hague nor anywhere else, will in any way impair our determination to achieve all our war objectives,’ Netanyahu clarified in a video message

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with the families of the ‘Heroism’ and the ‘Hope’ advocacy forums, April 30, 2024. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel will carry out a major operation in Rafah - Gaza’s southernmost city - with or without a hostage release deal.

The premier made his remarks during a meeting with a forum of bereaved families of fallen IDF soldiers and relatives of hostages. These families object to the notion of a deal with the Hamas terrorist organization that would effectively mean a de facto end to the war.

“There will be no compromise on our war objectives – we will not give up Rafah,” Netanyahu told the families of the ‘Heroism’ and the ‘Hope’ advocacy forums. Some families from the right-wing forums have previously threatened to go on a hunger strike until the Israeli military enters Rafah.

"I repeat my commitment, the war will only end after the complete defeat of Hamas and the return of the hostages by any means possible,” Netanyahu said.

"The idea that we will halt the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there – with or without a deal, in order to achieve the total victory."

Netanyahu also promised the families that any deal with Hamas would not include the release of “heavy-duty terrorists with blood on their hands,” according to Israel’s Channel 14 News.

Israel is still awaiting a response from Hamas to its latest proposal for a new hostage release deal. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Monday the offer Israel has made was “extraordinarily generous.”

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel,” Blinken said at the World Economic Forum session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “And in this moment the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”

Blinken is expected to arrive in Israel on Tuesday evening and meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday. His itinerary will include a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and with the families of the dual U.S.-Israeli hostages. He will also pay a visit to the Kerem Shalom border crossing, accompanied by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration and some European allies are trying to dissuade Israel from entering Rafah for a ground incursion.

On Tuesday, White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby said, "We do not want to see a large ground operation in Rafah that does not take into account the safety of Palestinian civilians there.”

According to Channel 14, Netanyahu told the families forum that "contrary to what is published in the media – I am pushing against the heavy pressures of President Biden."

Rafah is considered a strategic city for several tactical reasons. The IDF believes that there are four remaining Hamas operational battalions there, including the organization’s top leaders who are believed to be hiding and surrounded by hostages.

In mid-February, the IDF carried out a surgical operation in Rafah, following precise intelligence, in which two hostages - Fernando Simon Marman (60) and Norberto Luis Har (70) - were successfully rescued. IDF spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Daniel Hagari has confirmed on multiple occasions that the IDF believes that some Israeli hostages are being held captive by Hamas terrorists in Rafah.

In addition, Rafah borders Egypt. The border itself has been a main lifeline for Hamas, functioning as an artery from which much of the ammunition and terror infrastructure infiltrated into Gaza over the years.

During a press briefing in January, Netanyahu stressed that the Philadelphi Corridor – a 14 km (nearly 9 miles) buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt – must be closed.

In a video statement the prime minister released on Tuesday, he lashed out at the latest impediment to Israel’s war objectives, a looming threat of possible arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“This ICC attempt is an attempt to paralyze Israel’s very ability to defend itself,” Netanyahu said. He referred to the potential court threat as “an outrage of historic proportions.”

He urged the leaders of the free world to stand firmly against the ICC's "outrageous assault on Israel’s inherent right of self-defense.”

“We expect them to use all the means at their disposal to stop this dangerous move,” Netanyahu said.

“The government and people of Israel reject outright this grave threat to our security. This grave threat to our very existence,” he added. “I want to assure you, no ICC action will impact Israel’s iron-clad determination to achieve the goals of our war with Hamas terrorists: We will destroy Hamas’s military and governing capabilities in Gaza, we will release all our hostages, and we will ensure that Gaza never poses a threat to Israel again. “

“International bodies like the ICC arose in the wake of the Holocaust committed against the Jewish people. They were set up to prevent such horrors, to prevent future genocides,” the Israeli prime minister explained.

“Yet now the International Court is trying to put Israel in the dock. It's trying to put us in the dock as we defend ourselves against genocidal terrorists and regimes, Iran of course, that openly works to destroy the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu continued.

“Branding Israel's leaders and soldiers as war criminals will pour jet fuel on the fires of antisemitism, those fires that are already raging on the campuses of America and across capitals around the world. It will also be the first time that a democratic country fighting for its life according to the rules of war is itself accused of war crimes.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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