Gaza ceasefire in peril as Netanyahu promises Rafah invasion with or without deal

Israeli defence minister warned controversial Rafah invasion could take place in ‘very near future’

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Sunday 05 May 2024 22:18 BST
Brother of Israeli captive urges Netanyahu to sign ceasefire deal

As Israeli began observering its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to the key planks of a potential ceasfire with Hamas, further indicating Israel is preparing to go forward with an invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza that will likely kill untold numbers of civilians.

Despite a brief flash of hope over the weekend that Israel and Hamas were getting closer to a ceasefire agreement, the prime minister painted a far less optimistic picture in remarks on Sunday.

“Hamas remains entrenched in its extreme positions, first among them the demand to remove all our forces from the Gaza Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas in power,” he said. “Israel cannot accept that … Hamas would be able to achieve its promise of carrying out again and again and again its massacres, rapes and kidnapping.”

“I say to the leaders of the world: No amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum will stop Israel from defending itself,” he added. “Never again is now.”

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, in his own statement on Sunday, accused Hamas of not being interested in a hostage deal.

The official suggesting Israel would go ahead with its planned invasion in Rafah, where over a million Gazans displaced by the Israeli war effort are sheltering, in “the near future.”

“We have clear goals for this war. We are committed to the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages. We have given [Hamas] time and we wanted to reach a situation where we would realize the release of the hostages as quickly as possible, with a certain delay in the operational action, because the hostages are in a difficult situation and we need to make every effort to release them,” Mr Gallant told troops in central Gaza’s Netzarim Corridor.

His comments echo a statement from Mr Netanyahu earlier this week, who said Israel will invade Rafah “with or without a deal — in order to achieve the total victory.”

Despite the hard line from the top, hundreds of Israeli citizens took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest, calling on the Netanyahu government to hammer out a ceasfire deal and release the scores of Israeli hostages still in Hamas custody.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, said on Sunday the group still sought a ceasefire with a “serious” deal to exchange prisoners, as well as an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

He accused the Israeli prime minister of “the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties”.

The Netanyahu government has encountered criticism from the right and left, with hard-liners threatening to pull support from the Netanyahu coalition if he accepts a ceasefire, and liberal critics accusing the PM of avoiding real prospects for peace.

A recent piece from liberal-leaning Israeli newspaper Haartez accused Netanyahu of "torpedo[ing] Israel’s last and best chance at bringing the hostages home."

In the face of the stalemate at the negotiating table, the various parties are now seeking to plot their next moves.

A Hamas delegation, which arrived for negotiations in Cairo on Saturday, announced Sunday it was leaving to consult the group’s political office in Qatar, then would return to Egypt on Tuesday for continued talks.

Israel, meanwhile, has yet to send a delegation to the Egyptian capital.

US CIA director William Burns is also reportedly traveling to Doha.

"Burns is on his way to Doha for an emergency meeting with the Qatari Prime Minister aimed at exerting maximum pressure on Israel and Hamas to continue negotiating," a diplomatic source told Reuters.

Hamas was reportedly presented with a proposal that would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the partial release of hostages, in exchange for some level of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Hamas is seeking a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as part of its negotiating strategy, a demand Israel says it will not accept while Hamas remains in power.

“Ending the war, and leaving Hamas intact — the State of Israel cannot accept that,” Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday. “We are not prepared to accept a situation in which the Hamas brigades come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel.”

Until the parties can agree, the violence on the ground looks set to continue.

On Sunday, Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack from Rafah on the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza, which killed three Israeli soldiers.

In response, Israel said it would prevent aid trucks from entering Gaza through the border point.

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