Israel-Hamas War, Day 185: “There is a date,” says Benjamin Netanyahu about the Rafah offensive

Israel is maintaining its offensive plans on Rafah, a border town with Egypt, in the south of the Gaza Strip, where nearly a million and a half Palestinians have found refuge

Israel-Hamas War, Day 185: “There is a date,” says Benjamin Netanyahu about the Rafah offensive

Israel is maintaining its offensive plans on Rafah, a border town with Egypt, in the south of the Gaza Strip, where nearly a million and a half Palestinians have found refuge. On Monday, April 8, the Hamas health ministry announced the deaths of 32 Palestinians in twenty-four hours, bringing the total toll, after six months of war, to 33,207 deaths. On the Israeli side, the war led to the death of 1,170 people, according to a report established by Agence France-Presse (AFP) based on official Israeli figures.

On the ground, witnesses told AFP that several airstrikes had hit a house and agricultural land in Rafah, as well as the sectors of Nousseirat and Deir Al-Balah, in the center of the besieged territory. Artillery fire also targeted the southwest of Gaza City, in the north of the enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his determination to destroy Hamas "across the entire Gaza Strip, including in Rafah", despite the concern of the international community and pressure from its American ally, who disapproves of the operation. Victory over the Palestinian Islamist movement “requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there. It will happen – there is a date,” Netanyahu said in a video statement on Monday.

The United States on Monday strongly reaffirmed its opposition to any major Israeli operation in Rafah: "We have made clear to Israel that we believe that a massive military invasion of Rafah would have an extremely harmful effect on these civilians and that it would ultimately harm Israel’s security,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

Israeli soldiers withdrew on Sunday from the large city of Khan Younes, the epicenter of the fighting for several months, in order to "prepare the continuation of their missions (...) in the Rafah area", on the border with Egypt, had declared Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Since then, thousands of Palestinians have returned to Khan Younes, on foot, by car or on carts pulled by donkeys. AFP photos showed men, women and children making their way through the ruins of the disfigured city.

At the same time, new indirect negotiations for a truce are underway this week between Israel and Hamas, whose officials met in Cairo with mediators from Egypt, the United States and Qatar. The United States said Monday that mediators had presented Hamas with a ceasefire proposal. “The current situation is this: a proposal has been presented to Hamas, and we are waiting for their response,” argued John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.

The talks have been “serious,” but it is too early to say whether they will bear fruit, according to the White House. Israeli and Hamas officials, however, on Monday tempered hopes for a truce and the release of hostages held in Gaza, these new indirect negotiations in Cairo not having made it possible, according to them, to overcome the blockages. “Now it is up to Hamas to (…) make [the truce] a reality,” John Kirby told the press, refusing to reveal details of this agreement so as not to “torpedo” it.

The prospect of a ceasefire puts Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure. His allies within the ruling coalition warn him against making too much concessions to Hamas. “If the prime minister decides to end the war without attacking Rafah in order to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue serving as prime minister,” National Security Minister Itamar warned on Monday Ben Gvir, of the far-right Jewish Force party.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, for his part, judged Monday “the opportune moment” to conclude a truce with Hamas, in exchange for the release of the hostages kidnapped during the attack of October 7, 2023. According to Mr. Gallant, “the operational conditions that the Israeli army has created by putting relentless pressure on Hamas and the strong position we find ourselves in after this campaign offer us flexibility and freedom of action.”

During a visit to the United States, centrist Yaïr Lapid also told the press that “an agreement on hostages is achievable. It’s a difficult deal, it’s a deal we might not like, but it’s doable and so it has to be done.” Mr. Lapid said the opposition would offer temporary support to Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing government if it approved a deal backed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, which would provide for the release of hostages held by the Hamas and a truce in the Gaza war, which has entered its seventh month.

“We must ensure that we do our best to avoid harming the people of Gaza. We are not at war against the children of Gaza. Children should not be victims in adults' wars. On the other hand, we must not forget that we are fighting a terrible terrorist organization that uses them as human shields,” he added.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN virulently denounced on Monday the Palestinian request for membership in the international organization, at a time when the Security Council officially begins to examine this approach with more than improbable success. Since 2012, the Palestinians have had “non-member observer state” status. Last week they officially revived a request dating from 2011 to become a full member of the UN.

“The Security Council is currently discussing the recognition of a “Palestinazi” state,” launched Gilad Erdan from the podium of the General Assembly, believing that granting this request would be “the most abominable reward for the crimes the most abominable”.

Observers, however, doubt that the initiative will pass the Council stage due to the position of the United States which, already in 2011, had opposed this approach. “Our position has not changed,” Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood insisted on Monday, repeating that recognition of a Palestinian state must be done within the framework of an agreement with Israel, not at the UN.

“All we are asking is to take our rightful place within the community of Nations,” argued Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, who is hoping for a Security Council vote on April 18.