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Netanyahu says Israel could launch Rafah offensive 'alone'

Published March 22, 2024last updated March 22, 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel could launch an offensive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip without US support after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken advised against the planned assault.

Benjamin Netanyahu in front of an Israeli flag
Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements came after talks with US Secretary of State BlinkenImage: Maya Alleruzzo/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel could launch major ground operations in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip without US support.

Netanyahu made the comments after speaking with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken who arrived in Tel Aviv earlier on Friday.

It was the final stop on Blinken's sixth visit to the region since Israel's offensive in the Gaza Stripfollowing Hamas terror attacks on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel. The Hamas-led Health Ministry in Gaza said Friday that 32,070 Palestinians have been killed and 74,298 injured since October 7.

Netanyahu insists on Rafah offensive after Blinken meeting

"We have no way to defeat Hamas without getting into Rafah and eliminating the battalions that are left there," Netanyahu said.

"I told [Blinken] that I hope to do that with the support of the United States, but if we need to, we will do it alone," he said.

Israel, the United States and several other countries classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Blinken and other US officials have advised Israel not to go ahead with its planned ground assault in Rafah. Netanyahu's office has said it agreed to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington to hear alternative proposals.

As Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday, Israel announced the seizure of 800 hectares (1,977 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank, a move that activists called the largest such seizure in decades. 

Earlier in the week, Blinken and Arab leaders discussed efforts for a cease-fire as well as Gaza's future after the conflict.

Rafah offensive 'risks killing more civilians' — Blinken

Speaking shortly before leaving Israel, Blinken told reporters the US shares Israel's goal of defeating Hamas, but that a major offensive in Rafah "is not, in our judgment, the way to achieve it."

He said an operation in Rafah "risks killing more civilians."

"It risks wreaking greater havoc with the humanitarian assistance," he added. "It risks further isolating Israel around the world and jeopardizing its long-term security and standing."

Blinken said talks focused on efforts to reach an agreement for a cease-fire of at least six weeks that would see the release of hostages held by Hamas and enable the entry of more humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip.

Cease-fire resolution fails at UN Security Council

Meanwhile, on Friday, the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a US-sponsored resolution that called for a cease-fire in Gaza following vetos from Russia and China.

The proposal called for "an immediate and sustained cease-fire to protect civilians on all sides, allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance and alleviate humanitarian suffering.

Speaking at the end of his visit on Friday, Blinken said that Russia and China had "cynically vetoed" the resolution.

"On the resolution, which got very strong support, but then was cynically vetoed by Russia and China, I think we were trying to show the international community a sense of urgency about getting a cease-fire," he said.

Blinken said earlier in Saudi Arabia that the resolution "does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages, and we hope very much that countries will support that."

zc, sdi/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)