Egyptian officials estimate that Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip will move on the town of Rafah in about two weeks if a hostage release deal is not reached before then, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
When Egypt warned Hamas leaders about the Israeli intentions, the terror group's officials insisted on their existing demands, rejected the “Israeli threats” and said they were prepared to defend Rafah.
Rafah is the last major holdout still fully under Hamas control, manned by four intact battalions of Hamas terrorists.
It is also overflowing with up to a million refugees who fled the IDF troops’ advance in other areas of Gaza over the last months.
Despite increasing international pressure, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday evening that he had instructed Israel Defense Forces to prepare to evacuate civilians in Rafah before dismantling the Hamas battalions there.
Responding to international criticism, Netanyahu on Saturday said in an interview on the ABC News program “This Week": “Whoever tells us not to operate in Rafah is actually calling on us to lose the war and leave Hamas there.”
In the meantime, Egyptian and Qatari mediators continued their efforts to bridge the differences between Hamas and Israel regarding the latest ceasefire and hostage deal proposal.
On Friday, an Egyptian delegation arrived in Tel Aviv to continue the discussions regarding the ceasefire, as well as the situation around Rafah.
According to the WSJ report, Israeli officials are attempting to convince Egypt to give a tacit green light – or even agree on some cooperation – regarding an Israeli operation in Rafah.
Egypt has repeatedly warned Israel against operating in the town and threatened to cancel the peace treaty between the nations.
Rafah lies directly on the Egyptian border, stoking fear of refugee masses infiltrating or even storming the border. Egypt has reportedly strongly reinforced its border infrastructure and army troops along the border fence.
On Sunday, Israeli Army Radio cited Egyptian officials as saying that as long as Palestinian civilians would not be harmed, Egypt wouldn’t take action against an Israeli operation.
Nevertheless, according to a Reuters report that same day, Egypt again warned Israel of “dire consequences” in the case of such an operation.
On the Israeli side, media reported on Sunday that the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi told the government he had approved military plans for an operation three times and that the army was now awaiting instructions from the political echelon.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.