Israel vows to invade Rafah if hostages are not released by Ramadan

“If the hostages are not home by Ramadan, the fighting will continue toward the Rafah area,” war cabinet member Benny Gantz said at a conference.

War cabinet member, Benny Gantz.
War cabinet member, Benny Gantz. Photo courtesy: U.S. Secretary of Defense / Flickr

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday dismissed growing calls to end the military offensive in Gaza and pledged to “finish the job,” while a member of his war cabinet, Benny Gantz, threatened to invade the city of Rafah if the remaining hostages are not released before the next Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

“Hamas has the choice. They can surrender, free the hostages and the civilians of Gaza will be able to celebrate the holiday of Ramadan,” said retired general Benny Gantz, one of the three members of Netanyahu’s war cabinet.

“If the hostages are not home by Ramadan, the fighting will continue toward the Rafah area,” Gantz said at a conference of U.S. Jewish community leaders. Ramadan, which will begin on March 10, has historically been a time of tension in the region.

As truce negotiations struggle after signs of progress in recent weeks, Netanyahu has called the demands of the Hamas militant group, which rules Gaza, “delusional.”

The United States, Israel’s main ally, says it still hopes to negotiate a ceasefire and hostage release deal, and envisions a broader resolution to the war that broke out when Hamas launched a deadly attack in southern Israel on Sept. 7. October.

Washington also says it will veto a new proposed United Nations resolution that demands a ceasefire, and its ambassador to the organization, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recommended not taking measures that could jeopardize “the opportunity to reach a lasting resolution at hostilities.”

Netanyahu opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, which the United States sees as a key element of a broader picture of normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a regional power. His cabinet on Sunday adopted a statement specifying that Israel “categorically rejects international edicts on a permanent agreement with the Palestinians” and opposes any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

The international community has overwhelmingly favored an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. Netanyahu’s government is packed with hardline politicians who oppose Palestinian independence.

Netanyahu wants Israel to achieve “total victory” over Hamas. In response to international concern about an offensive on Rafah, he has said Palestinian civilians will be evacuated, although it is still unknown where they would go within the devastated territory.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said southern Gaza’s main medical center, Nasser Hospital, is “no longer functional” after Israeli forces raided it last week in Khan Younis.

Israel continued its attacks in different parts of Gaza, and from Saturday night until Sunday morning it caused the death of at least 18 people, according to doctors and witnesses.

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