Netanyahu says Israel will push on with offensive into Rafah despite warning from Biden

Allies have urged Netanyahu not to attack Rafah, where more than a million people are sheltering from war

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu dismissed international pressure on Sunday and said he would keep on with the military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, where aid agencies say famine is looming, as ceasefire talks are set to resume.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel would push into Rafah, the last relatively safe place in the tiny, crowded Gaza enclave after more than five months of war.

“We will operate in Rafah. This will take several weeks, and it will happen,” Netanyahu said, without clarifying if he meant the assault would last for weeks or would begin in weeks.

Israel’s allies have repeatedly urged Netanyahu not to attack Rafah, where more than a million displaced people from other parts of the devastated enclave have sought shelter, without a plan to protect civilians.


German chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Jordan before a planned visit to Israel, said an assault on Rafah would make regional peace “very difficult” and that efforts now were “about ensuring we come to a long-lasting ceasefire”.

US president Joe Biden and officials with the UN have warned that an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah would lead to a “bloodbath” and Biden has said that Israel would cross a “red line” if it proceeded with a large-scale invasion of Rafah.

Netanyahu hit out at the pressure from allies, saying: “Are your memories that short? Have you so quickly forgotten October 7th, the most horrific massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? Are you so quick to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the Hamas monsters?”.

He has said Israel has a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah, but aid agencies and Israel's allies remain sceptical.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and seized 253 hostages in the October 7th attack according to Israeli tallies, triggering a massive assault on Gaza.

Israel’s air and ground campaign in the enclave has killed more than 31,600 people, health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say, driven most of the population from their homes and brought them to the brink of famine according to aid agencies.

A source familiar with the truce talks in Qatar told Reuters the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency would join the delegation attending the negotiations with Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators.

Hamas presented a new ceasefire proposal last week including an exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. Israel's security cabinet is to meet to discuss it before the delegation leaves.

Netanyahu has already said the proposal was based on “unrealistic demands”, but a Palestinian official familiar with mediation efforts said chances for a deal looked better with Hamas having given more details on the proposed prisoner swap.

“The mediators felt positive about Hamas’s new proposal. Some in Israel felt the group made some improvement on its previous position and it is now in the hands of Netanyahu alone to say whether an agreement is imminent,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Israeli minister for defence Yoav Gallant, in an apparent reference to the negotiations, said the security establishment “is committed to exhausting every possibility and willing to take advantage of every possibility, including the current one, to return the hostages to their families”.

Trucks of flour have reached northern Gaza for distribution to areas that have had no aid in four months, Palestinian media reported on Sunday.

A convoy of 12 trucks arrived in the north on Saturday – six in Gaza City and six in the Jabilia refugee camp – carrying supplies to also be distributed to the northernmost areas of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, the media and residents said.

The Hamas-linked Home Front media outlet reported that the aid was distributed by the “Popular Committees”, a group that includes leaders of powerful clans in Gaza. A Hamas source said the route was secured by Hamas security personnel.

Aid agencies have warned that pockets of Gaza already face famine, with hospitals in the north reporting children dying of malnutrition and dehydration.

An Israeli strike overnight killed 12 people in one house in Deir al-Balah in the centre of the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip, the ministry for health said, among 92 people it said had been killed in the previous 24 hours. – Reuters