Saturday, March 2, 2024

Israeli ground offensive in Rafah would destroy hostage talks: Hamas

An Israeli ground assault in the city of Rafah would mean the end of hostage negotiations, Hamas-run television channel Al-Aqsa reported Sunday, quoting a leadership source in the Palestinian group.

According to Al-Aqsa TV, a Hamas leadership source said that an aggression against Rafah would mean the “destruction” of negotiations that have been ongoing for weeks.

“Netanyahu is trying to evade the obligations of the exchange deal by committing a genocide and a new humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah,” Al-Aqsa quoted the Hamas source as saying.

In a statement on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced it had directed the military to plan for the “evacuation of the population” from Rafah in anticipation of a ground assault on the southern Gaza city.

In an interview with ABC releasing Sunday, Netanyahu called Rafah the “last bastion” of Hamas and said Israel was “working out a detailed plan” to secure “safe passage” for civilians but offered few details.

More than one million people live in Rafah, which is the last major area of Gaza the Israeli military is yet to enter.

On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked Israeli settlements near the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death of 1,200 Israelis, injury to 5,500 and the capture of at least 250 hostages.

On November 24, Qatar mediated a deal between Israel and Hamas on a temporary truce and the exchange of some of the prisoners and hostages, as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. The ceasefire was extended several times and expired on December 1.

Israel estimates the presence of “137 hostages still held in the Gaza Strip”, according to media reports and statements from Israeli officials.

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