Israel approves potential assault on Rafah amid truce efforts

Israel has given the green light for a possible military operation against the Gaza city of Rafah, while simultaneously pursuing ceasefire negotiations through plans to dispatch another delegation to Qatar for discussions on a prospective hostage exchange with the Islamist militant group Hamas, Reuters reported.

According to the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he authorized a strategy to target Rafah, located on the southern border of the battered Palestinian territory, which currently shelters over half of its 2.3 million inhabitants after five months of conflict.

International allies and detractors have implored Netanyahu to delay any offensive against Rafah, concerned about the risk of widespread civilian casualties. Israel contends that Rafah remains one of Hamas’s last bastions, vowing to dismantle the group and promising the evacuation of residents.

In the U.S., White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby disclosed that the administration had yet to review the details of the Rafah operation but expressed interest. During a press briefing, Kirby highlighted a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire in exchange for hostages as a potentially viable option and shared cautious optimism regarding the prospect.

Hamas has proposed a ceasefire agreement to mediators and the U.S., suggesting the release of Israeli captives in return for the liberation of Palestinian prisoners, including 100 individuals serving life sentences, as per a document obtained and reported by Reuters.

Netanyahu’s office has critiqued Hamas’s hostage release demands as unrealistic, yet confirmed that an Israeli delegation would proceed to Doha for discussions following a security cabinet review.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office mentioned that the Israeli Defense Force is making operational preparations and planning for the evacuation of Rafah’s population, without specifying a timeline or providing evidence of immediate groundwork.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to journalists in Austria, emphasized the need for a detailed and actionable strategy from Israel for Rafah that ensures civilian safety.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire agreement before the commencement of Ramadan have not been successful. However, the U.S. and Arab intermediaries remain committed to negotiating a settlement to avert an assault on Rafah and to facilitate food aid to prevent famine.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a high-ranking Hamas official, accused Netanyahu of strategizing to commit further “crimes of genocide,” asserting that the Israeli leader has no interest in reaching a settlement, as reported by Reuters.

Israel has refuted allegations of genocide, asserting its campaign is strictly aimed at neutralizing Hamas militants.

Tensions between Washington and Israel are escalating, with Biden administration officials criticizing Israel’s military actions for insufficient consideration of civilian impact.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a prominent Democrat and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S., has urged Israelis to consider replacing Netanyahu, citing his policies as detrimental to Israel’s global reputation.

President Joe Biden echoed Schumer’s sentiments on Friday, praising his speech and acknowledging the concerns shared by many Americans.

In a separate incident, an Israeli airstrike demolished a seven-story residential building in central Gaza City late Friday, resulting in several casualties, according to the spokesperson for the local civil emergency service. Rescue teams were reportedly searching the debris for survivors.