Total victory in Gaza will be ‘weeks away’ once Rafah operation launched - NETANYAHU vows

Monday, February 26, 2024
 – An Israeli military operation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weeks-long truce between Israel and Hamas is reached, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, February 25 but claimed that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the military operation in Rafah begins.

Speaking to Margaret Brennan on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu confirmed that a ceasefire deal is in the works but did not provide details.

Israeli media reported that mediators were making progress on an agreement for a temporary ceasefire and the release of dozens of hostages held captive in Gaza as well as Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel.

Reports say the deal includes the release in the first phase of some 40 hostages held in Gaza, including women, children, female soldiers and elderly and ill abductees, amid a pause in fighting of some six weeks.

It also includes the release by Israel of hundreds of Palestinian terror convicts, and a “redeployment” of Israeli troops within Gaza but not a complete withdrawal as Hamas had previously demanded. The deal would also reportedly see Israel enable the return of Palestinian women and children to northern Gaza, from where hundreds of thousands evacuated during the fighting, and which Israel has kept cut off from the rest of the enclave.

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said the war cabinet has approved the deal.

Talks resumed on Sunday in Qatar at the specialist level, Egypt’s state-run Al Qahera TV reported, citing an Egyptian official as saying further discussions would follow in Cairo with the aim of achieving the temporary ceasefire and release.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, responded to Netanyahu’s comments, saying that they cast doubt over Israel’s willingness to secure a hostage deal.

“Netanyahu’s comments show he is not concerned about reaching an agreement,” Abu Zuhri told Reuters, accusing the Israeli leader of wanting “to pursue negotiation under bombardment and the bloodshed” of Palestinians in Gaza.

In Rafah, which is the Gaza-Egypt border, more than half the territory’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge. Humanitarian groups warn of a catastrophe, with Rafah the main entry point for aid, and the US and other allies have said Israel must avoid harming civilians. Israel’s political and military leaders have said the operation will not begin until the safety of non-combatants has been ensured.

Netanyahu has said he will convene the cabinet this week to approve operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of civilians.

“Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion. Not months,” Netanyahu told CBS. “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.”

Speaking to CBS, Netanyahu was asked about “growing distrust of you personally” by Congress and the Biden White House. “When you’re closest ally is telling you things like this and telling you you need to reconsider a strategy, isn’t it worth considering?” Brennan queried the prime minister.

Responding, the Israeli PM said: “Well, first of all, you say there’s no confidence in me, well the Israeli public has confidence in me.” The prime minister’s approval ratings, however, have plummeted since October 7 and almost all polls show that he would not be able to form a coalition were early elections to be held.

On the differences in strategy between the US and Israel, the prime minister said that he thinks “the US agrees with us on the goal of destroying Hamas and the goal of releasing the hostages. The decisions on how to do that are left with us, and with me, and with the elected cabinet of Israel.

“A lot of things that we were told by the best of friends initially turned out to not be true,” Netanyahu continued. “They said ‘You can’t enter the ground war without having enormous complications,’ they said ‘You can’t enter Gaza City, you can’t go into the tunnels, it will be a terrible bloodbath.’ All that turned out to be not true,” he said.

“Our soldiers are in the tunnel network. We don’t have to take apart hundreds of kilometres of tunnels. We are taking apart the missile production factories that are underground, the command and control headquarters, the computers that are there, the money that is there, the weapons that are there, and the ammo that is there. We’re doing that methodically,” he continued.

Since the beginning of the war, more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The war broke out following Hamas’s October 7 attack, which saw Hamas terrorists kill some 1,200 people in a rampage through southern Israel, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and kidnap 253 people. Some 130 are still held in Gaza.

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