I have a date for the Rafah operation, says Netanyahu

US spokesperson says ‘we have not been briefed’


Smoke billows over buildings in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel has set a date for the military offensive against the remaining Hamas terror battalions in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday night.

“We are constantly working to achieve our goals – first and foremost the release of all our hostages and achieving a complete victory over Hamas. This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there,” the premier said in a video released by his office.

“It will happen; there is a date,” said Netanyahu, adding that he had received a “detailed report” on the high-level hostages-for-ceasefire negotiations that ended in Cairo earlier on Monday.

Matthew Miller, the US State Department spokesman, told reporters on Thursday, “To my knowledge, we have not been briefed on that date.”

The Israeli government has repeatedly argued that telling it to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas after 184 days are believed to be held in Rafah. Two captives were rescued from the city by special forces in a daring military operation last month.

According to Israeli estimates, the final four Hamas battalions – with some 3,000 gunmen – are concentrated in Rafah. Netanyahu has said that all battalions must be defeated to prevent the terror organisation from regrouping and re-establishing itself to threaten Israel again.

Around 64 per cent of Israelis support expanding the military operations against Hamas to Rafah, even if it means a clash with the United States, which opposes such a move, according to a poll published last week.

The Biden administration is pressing Israel to refrain from a full-scale ground incursion, claiming the move could lead to a humanitarian “disaster” in Gaza. Instead, the White House favours a limited operation aimed at high-value Hamas targets and securing the border with Egypt.

The administration is seeking to explore alternative plans when a senior Israeli delegation visits Washington, though a date has yet to be set.

“We were hoping to be able to do it this week, but I’m not sure,” White House advisor John Kirby told reporters on Monday. “I’m not expecting one this week.” He claimed Israel had committed not to launch an operation in Rafah prior to holding the delayed meeting in Washington.

The meeting was originally scheduled for late last month but was cancelled by Netanyahu at the last minute after the US refused to veto a UN Security Council resolution on March 25, decoupling the demand for a ceasefire from the release of the hostages held by Hamas.

Last week, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, held a virtual discussion about the Rafah operation with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other American officials.

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