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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu says Rafah key to total victory

Published February 25, 2024last updated February 25, 2024

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back on calls to delay a Rafah offensive, saying total victory is just weeks away. Netanyahu said a cease-fire would only delay his decision, not put it off for good. DW has more.

Smoke rises after Israeli bombardment of Rafah
Israel is pressing forward with its military plans for Rafah, despite criticism from the US and other allies Image: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Netanyahu says cease-fire will only delay Gaza operation
  • UNRWA says famine can still be avoided in Gaza

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Skip next section Famine in Gaza a 'man-made disaster,' says UNRWA
February 25, 2024

Famine in Gaza a 'man-made disaster,' says UNRWA

The head of the UN’s Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, said Sunday that Gaza faces a "man-made disaster" if organizations are not allowed to deliver humanitarian assistance to the war-torn region.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Lazzarini wrote: "The world committed to never let famine happen again. Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance."

UNRWA has regularly warned of looming famine as a result of Israel's Gaza offensive in the wake of the  Hamas terror attacks on southern Israel on October 7.

The World Food Program, too, has described "unprecedented levels of desperation" among civilians caught up in the fighting.

Lazzarini said his organization was last able to deliver aid on January 23.

UNRWA has come under international pressure since Israel claimed that a number of its workers participated in Hamas' brutal October attacks, which killed some 1,200 people in Israel.

More than 200 people were also taken hostage in the attack. About half remain in captivity.

UNICEF: Gaza faces 'an explosion in preventable child death'

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, has said 29,692 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military operation.

There have also been reports of children dying of malnutrition, with Palestinians saying they have been forced to eat rotting corn as well as livestock feed unfit for human consumption in order to survive.

On Sunday, Israel said 245 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza had been inspected and allowed to enter the enclave.  

Skip next section Israeli PM Netanyahu: 'Total victory' comes weeks after Rafah operation
February 25, 2024

Israeli PM Netanyahu: 'Total victory' comes weeks after Rafah operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on the US political talk show "Face the Nation" on Sunday to speak about the state of the war in Gaza. He defended his opposition to a cease-fire, saying it would only serve to delay Israel's final push into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

"Unless we have total victory, we can't have peace," said Netanyahu.

"Total victory is important to achieve the war goal of destroying Hamas, releasing the hostages, and ensuring that Gaza doesn't pose a threat. But I think also is essential for any future peaceful Middle East."

Asked by host Margaret Brennan if a six-week cease-fire to facilitate the return of hostages being held by Hamas could present a window to ending the war, Netanyahu pushed back: "Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion, not months."

"That gets us a real, real distance towards the completion of our victory, and we're not going to give it up," he added. "If we have a deal, it'll be delayed somewhat. But it'll happen. If we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway. It has to be done. Because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach. Not months away, weeks away once we begin the operation."

Rafah maternity hospital struggles to keep newborns alive

The prime minister said IDF troops were currently dismantling underground missile production facilities as well as Hamas command headquarters, and said plans were forthcoming as to how Israel intends to get civilians out of Rafah before beginning its operation.

Netanyahu said the 1.4 million Gazans currently estimated to be in Rafah would not be pushed into Egypt, but would be moved north of Rafah — though not to the northern Gaza Strip, where heavy fighting continues.

Lastly, Netanyahu claimed the Israeli people were behind him, despite massive ongoing protests. Instead, he pointed to the support his Gaza plan has received from politicians in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

Skip next section Two Hezbollah fighters killed in Israeli strike in Syria, says monitor
February 25, 2024

Two Hezbollah fighters killed in Israeli strike in Syria, says monitor

An Israeli missile strike on Sunday targeted a truck in Syria, killing two members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, a war monitor has reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country's 13-year conflict, added that the strike had been launched near the Syrian-Lebanese border.

This marked the 16th Israeli attack on Syria this year, according to the UK-based monitor.

The Israeli military has yet to confirm the attack.

Later Sunday, Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, said two of its fighters had been killed, without saying when and where they were killed.

Israel has in the past bombed targets in Syria to hit Iranian forces based there. 

Hezbollah and Israeli forces have clashed on the border between Israel and Lebanon since the start of the war in Gaza in October, causing several casualties.

Hezbollah is labeled as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and several other countries.

Skip next section IDF says captures Hamas fighters hidden among civilians
February 25, 2024

IDF says captures Hamas fighters hidden among civilians

The Israeli military has said its forces have taken several fighters from the militant Hamas group prisoner in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, after they tried to escape the city concealed among civilians.

It also said other armed men had been killed in the area during overnight operations and that a Hamas cell preparing a drone attack had also been destroyed.

Israeli soldiers also found a weapons cache and destroyed a rocket-launching site in a large-scale operation in Gaza City, said the Israel Defense Forces.

The reports cannot be independently verified.

Skip next section Israel to send delegation to Qatar to negotiate hostage release, cease-fire
February 25, 2024

Israel to send delegation to Qatar to negotiate hostage release, cease-fire

Israel's War Cabinet has approved sending a delegation of negotiators to Qatar to continue talks aimed at securing a hostage-release deal and possible cease-fire, officials said Saturday.

The head of Israel's foreign intelligence service, Mossad, and his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security service met with mediators from the US, Egypt and Qatar in Paris, the AFP news agency reported.

In a televised interview on Saturday night, national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said there was room for a possible agreement after the delegation returned from Paris to gain the Cabinet's approval for further negotiations.

Local media reported that the government had approved a plan to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days. The objective of this delegation would be to continue negotiations on a weekslong truce and the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mentioned the decision in a post on platform X, even while he planned the ground offensive in Rafah.

"We are working to obtain another outline for the release of our hostages, as well as the completion of the elimination of the Hamas battalions in Rafah," he said. "That is why I sent a delegation to Paris and tonight we will discuss the next steps in the negotiations."

Pressure on Netanyahu and his government has been growing to strike a deal to free the hostages. Thousands have been gathering in Tel Aviv at what has come to be known as "Hostages Square" to demand swifter action. 

Israeli anger grows over hostage crisis

Skip next section Netanyahu to push for approval of Rafah operation
February 25, 2024

Netanyahu to push for approval of Rafah operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will convene the country's War Cabinet early next week for approval of "operational plans for action in Rafah."

The plan for military operations in the city in the south of the Gaza Strip will also include "the evacuation of the civilian population," he said in a post on social media platform X. 

Israel has steadily expanded military ground operations in Gaza toward the south, leaving Rafah as one of the last refuges for over half of the enclave's 2.3 million residents fleeing the violence. The city's population, which stood at about 250,000 before the war, has ballooned to about 1.5 million, according to several UN agencies. 

Many there are living in makeshift camps and UN shelters.

Earlier in February, Israeli officials announced their intention to conduct a full-scale ground offensive in Rafah, which Netanyahu called "the last bastion" of Hamas, which Israel and several other countries designate as a terrorist organization. 

Netanyahu's statement triggered several of Israel's allied and non-allied countries to call for an immediate, albeit temporary, cease-fire. 

The United States, Israel’s biggest supporter in its war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has warned Netanyahu against carrying out the Rafah operation without a practical plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians.

In his post, Netanyahu said the continued military pressure on Hamas is necessary to secure the release of the remaining hostages being held in Gaza.

Offensive on Rafah a 'humanitarian disaster in the making': Annalena Baerbock

mk/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)