Israel vow to press ahead with Gaza offensive despite international pressure

Palestinians line up for food in the southern city of Rafah, which is braced for an Israeli invasion. Credit: AP

Israel is "thoroughly planning" a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah despite growing international concerns about the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians seeking refuge there.

US President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to protect civilians and to instead focus on a cease-fire, while Egypt has said an operation could threaten the key diplomatic relations between the countries.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, have crammed into Rafah, most of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in the territory. Hundreds of thousands are living in sprawling tent camps.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel has inflicted heavy losses on Hamas during a war that is now in its fifth month and that Rafah is “the next Hamas centre of gravity” Israel plans to target.

“We are thoroughly planning future operations in Rafah, which is a significant Hamas stronghold,” he said.

Egypt has repeatedly warned Israel not to push Palestinian civilians in Rafah across the border, saying a mass influx could lead to the end of the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted an invasion of Rafah is necessary to achieve victory. Credit: AP

Gallant said it had no plans to push Palestinians into Egypt saying "We respect and value our peace agreement with Egypt, which is a cornerstone of stability in the region as well as an important partner."

New satellite photos, however, indicate that Egypt is preparing for that very scenario. The images show Egypt building a wall and levelling land near its border with Gaza.

Talks on a potential ceasefire deal in Gaza "have not been progressing as expected" in the past few days after good progress in recent weeks, key mediator Qatar said on Saturday.

It comes as Israeli's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Hamas militant group, which governs the Gaza Strip, of not changing its "delusional" demands.

Speaking during the Munich Security Conference, Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani, noted difficulties in the “humanitarian part” of the negotiations. Mr Netanyahu, who is under pressure to bring home remaining hostages taken during the October 7 Hamas attack, said he sent a delegation to ceasefire talks in Cairo earlier in the week at Mr Biden’s request.

However, he says he doesn't see the point in sending them again. Hamas says it wants a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

More than half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million have been crammed into the southern city of Rafah. Credit: AP

Israel has made it clear throughout the war that it would not accept any ceasefire deal which would deprive it of a complete victory.

After the last ceasefire deal, which saw the exchanging of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, while allowing the transfer of more aid into Gaza, Israel said it would carry on with its goal of eliminating Hamas.

New airstrikes in central Gaza on Saturday killed more than 40 people, including children, and wounded at least 50, according to Associated Press journalists and hospital officials. Israel’s military said it carried out strikes there against Hamas.

Five people were killed in an Israeli airstrike that targeted a house outside Khan Younis in the south, according to health officials, and another five people, including three children, were killed in an airstrike on a building north of Rafah.

Dr. Marwan al-Hams, director of Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, said other bodies were being pulled from the rubble. The Gaza Health Ministry on Saturday raised the overall death toll in Gaza to 28,858, saying the bodies of 83 people killed in Israeli bombardments were brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours. The count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians, but the ministry says two-thirds of those killed are women and children.

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