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Netanyahu Advances Rafah Attack Plan as Israeli-Hamas Cease-fire is Negotiated

Sunday-Feb-25-2024 {HMC}  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is pushing ahead with plans for a ground invasion in the Gaza town of Rafah to root out Hamas militants, even as mediators work on a new, weekslong cease-fire in the five-month war that also calls for the release of more hostages held by Hamas.

The Israeli leader said he will convene his war Cabinet this week to “approve the operational plans for action in Rafah.” He told the CBS news show “Face the Nation” that once Israeli forces begin a Rafah operation, where more than a million Palestinians have taken shelter to try to shield themselves from the war, it would be weeks away from victory in Gaza.

Netanyahu said it was not clear whether a cease-fire and hostage deal would materialize from new talks in Qatar, saying Hamas needed to “come down to a reasonable situation.” He said he is meeting later Sunday to review a dual military plan that includes the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from the Gaza region near the Egyptian border.

He said if Israel has a deal for a cease-fire, a Rafah invasion “will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.”

The United States has been Israel’s chief ally in the war against Hamas, but White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Netanyahu has not informed Washington of its plans for a Rafah attack and any evacuation of Palestinians.

“We’re talking about more than a million people who have been pushed into this small space in Gaza because of military operations elsewhere,” Sullivan said. “And so, we’ve been clear that we do not believe that an operation — a major military operation — should proceed in Rafah, unless there is a clear and executable plan to protect those civilians, to get them to safety and to feed, clothe and house them. And we have not seen a plan like that.”

 

Israel agreed late Saturday to send negotiators to Qatar for further talks. Hamas said it has not been involved in the latest discussions developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar but the reported plan appears to largely match the demands it had made for the first phase of a halt in the war.

A senior Egyptian official said Saturday that the draft cease-fire deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages, from among about 100 living hostages held by Hamas, in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, minors and older people, being freed by Israel.

In addition, there would be a six-week pause in the fighting that would include allowing hundreds of trucks filled with food and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza every day, including for the northern half of the besieged territory. During the temporary halt in fighting, there would be further negotiations for the release of more hostages and a permanent cease-fire.

“Representatives of Israel, the United States, Egypt, and Qatar met in Paris and came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary cease-fire would look like,” Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” show.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting raged on in Gaza on Sunday, including in the northern reaches of the territory, Israel’s first target after the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 240 hostages. Israel’s counteroffensive has killed nearly 30,000 people in Gaza, with Israel saying it has killed 12,000 Hamas fighters. Most of those killed have been women and children.

 

About 100 hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. The Israeli military says it believes about 30 hostages held by Hamas have subsequently died or been killed in Gaza.

Aside from any halt in fighting or an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, the fate of Gaza after the war remains uncertain. Netanyahu called last week for continued Israeli control of the territory along the Mediterranean Sea and remains opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state to rule Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Sullivan told Fox News the U.S. has not “moved an inch” off its support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

SOURCE VOA

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