Israel's allies urge Netanyahu to reconsider Rafah ground offensive

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the base of the IDF Yahalom Unit Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO/dpa
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the base of the IDF Yahalom Unit Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO/dpa
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Israel's allies warned that an "unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe" would unfold if there was an invasion of Rafah, the southern city in Gaza, into which hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled Israeli bombardment.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he was "deeply concerned" about the prospect of a military offensive, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said "an Israeli offensive on Rafah would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe."

US President Joe Biden, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, also expressed concern about the civilian cost of such a campaign.

A White House statement said Biden told Netanyahu that Israel "should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than 1 million people sheltering there."

Hamas meanwhile said any military action in Rafah would mean the ending of talks on a hostage agreement.

Any attack could ruin the negotiations, the Palestinian television station Al-Aqsa, considered a mouthpiece of the Palestinian organization, cited an unnamed high-ranking Hamas member as saying.

Netanyahu earlier assured the hundreds of thousands of civilians seeking protection in Rafah of a "safe corridor" ahead of the planned ground offensive there.

"We're not cavalier about this," Netanyahu said in an interview with the US broadcaster ABC News.

When asked where the more than 1 million Palestinians in the city bordering Egypt should go, Netanyahu said that "a detailed plan" was being worked out.

When asked in the interview how many hostages are still alive as far as Netanyahu knows, he replied that it was "enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we're doing."

The twin goals of defeating Hamas and saving the lives of the hostages were not mutually exclusive, Netanyahu said. He said the previous deal that saw 110 hostages released alive had come about "because we applied military pressure, not because we stopped applying it."

There are currently 136 people still held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, however Israeli media report that as many as 50 of them could be dead.

UN Secretary General António Guterres also warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and consequences for the entire region. Half the population of the Gaza Strip is crammed into Rafah and has nowhere else to go, he wrote on the online platform X.

Egypt fears that a massive military operation in Rafah could lead to an influx of desperate Palestinians to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

In the ABC interview Netanyahu said: "Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying 'Lose the war. Keep Hamas there.'"

Netanyahu said he agrees "with the Americans. We're going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave."

Israel has already attacked targets in Rafah from the air on several occasions. However, Israeli ground troops have not yet been deployed there.

Before the war, the city had around 300,000 inhabitants, but now at least 1.3 million internally displaced people are said to be enduring harsh conditions in confined spaces.

The Gaza war was triggered by the unprecedented massacre carried out by terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups in southern Israel on October 7. More than 1,200 people were killed on the Israeli side.

Israel responded with massive airstrikes and a ground offensive. The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza put the death toll, as of Saturday, at more than 28,000.