Update on Israel-Hamas war as of February 18: Israeli government issues ultimatum before Rafah offensive

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet, warned on Sunday that Israel would launch an offensive against the city of Rafah if Israeli hostages held in Gaza were not released by Ramadan

Update on Israel-Hamas war as of February 18: Israeli government issues ultimatum before Rafah offensive

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet, warned on Sunday that Israel would launch an offensive against the city of Rafah if Israeli hostages held in Gaza were not released by Ramadan. As the prospects for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel fade, the noose tightens at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younes. Seven patients, including a child, have died since Friday due to power cuts. Furthermore, the death of three men in the occupied West Bank brings to 398 the number of Palestinians killed in the territory by the army of the Jewish State or by settlers since October 7.

The threat of an Israeli offensive against Rafah, a town backed by Egypt's closed border, is getting closer. “The world must know and Hamas leaders must know: if by Ramadan, the hostages are not at home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including in the Rafah region,” said Sunday, February 18, Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, member of Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet. Ramadan, the holy month of Muslims, is scheduled to begin around March 10.

“To those who say the price is too high, I say clearly: Hamas has a choice. They can surrender, free the hostages and the civilians of Gaza will be able to celebrate the holiday of Ramadan,” added the former head of the Israeli army in a speech before the Conference of Presidents of the Main American Jewish Organizations, meeting in Jerusalem .

Despite calls from part of the international community, Benjamin Netanyahu's government is determined to launch an offensive against the city of Rafah, where 1.4 million people are crowded together. Most of the displaced people live there in very harsh conditions. Benny Gantz affirmed that an offensive would be carried out, in a coordinated manner and within the framework of a dialogue with the Americans and Egyptians, "by facilitating the evacuation of civilians" to minimize "as much as possible" the number of victims in their ranks .

Rafah and the town of Khan Younes, located in the south of the Gaza Strip and a few kilometers apart, as well as other areas of Palestinian territory were the target of Israeli bombings which left 127 dead in twenty-four hours, the Hamas health ministry said on Sunday.

Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, the second largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, is "completely out of service", Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra told Reuters on Sunday . “There are only four medical staff left caring for patients,” he said.

“The Nasser Medical Complex is the backbone of healthcare in the southern Gaza Strip. His ruling is a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians in Khan Yunis and Rafah,” he added. The lack of fuel and the fighting around the hospital are responsible for this out of service, according to the spokesperson.

At Nasser hospital, seven patients including a child have died since Friday due to power cuts, according to the ministry. Soldiers entered the hospital on Thursday based on information that hostages were being held there, the Israeli army said, reporting the arrest of a hundred people and the discovery of weapons.

On Sunday, the army added that its soldiers had found “boxes of medicines [sent by Israel] with the names of Israeli hostages. The medicine boxes were closed and were not given to the hostages.” “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the hospital continues to operate,” said army spokesman Richard Hecht, asserting that “fuel and oxygen supplies had been delivered there.” .

Washington once again threatened to block a new draft resolution at the UN Security Council at the initiative of Algeria, demanding “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire which must be respected by all parties”. Algiers requested a vote be held on Tuesday.

Negotiations involving Egyptian, American and Qatari mediators to obtain a truce between Hamas and Israel including an exchange between Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners have taken place in recent weeks. They have “not been very promising in recent days”, but “we will do our best to get closer” to an agreement, Qatar Prime Minister Mohammed Ben Abderrahmane Al Thani said on Saturday in Munich.

Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007, threatened to walk out of the talks if “[humanitarian] aid was not delivered to northern Gaza.” Its leader Ismaïl Haniyeh repeated that his movement demanded a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Brazil accuses the Jewish state of committing genocide, following a raid by the Israeli army in the Tulkarem camp, announced the health ministry of the Palestinian Authority, in power in the West Bank. At least five other people were injured during this operation, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. One of the two men killed was a cadre of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, the movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the organization said.

The Israeli army explained that its forces had come to arrest a man suspected of having “participated in attacks against Israeli forces and killings of people suspected of collaborating with them in Tulkarem.” “Terrorists opened fire and threw explosives at Israeli forces, who responded,” killing the suspect who was “armed,” she added, specifying that an Israeli police officer was also “severely injured and hospitalized.”

Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces during an incident at a checkpoint near Nablus, some 35 km east of Tulkarem, the Palestinian Authority health ministry said. Israeli forces confirmed in a statement that they had “neutralized” a man who “got out of a vehicle, walked towards [Israeli] soldiers and continued to advance towards them, giving no response as they approached them. 'challenged'. Fatah, the largest organization in the Palestinian Authority, deplored in a statement the death of this man, a member of its security services, “killed in cold blood”.

According to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, the deaths of the three men bring to 398 the number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank by the Jewish state army or by settlers since October 7.

“What is happening in the Gaza Strip is not a war, it is a genocide,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is attending an African Union summit. “This is not a war of soldiers against soldiers. This is a war between a highly prepared army and women and children,” added the Brazilian leader, a veteran of the left.

“What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has not happened at any other time in history. In fact, this has already happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” he insisted. These comments are among the most virulent ever made on the conflict by Mr. Lula.

They “are shameful and serious”, and “I decided with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel Katz, to immediately summon the Brazilian ambassador to Israel to strongly lecture him”, reacted in the afternoon the first Israeli Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is about trivializing the Holocaust and attempting to harm the Jewish people and Israel’s right to defend itself. Comparing Israel to the Nazi Holocaust and Hitler crosses the red line,” Netanyahu added in a statement.

“Brazil has been on the side of Hamas for years. President Lula supports a genocidal terrorist organization (…) and in doing so brings shame on his people and violates the values ​​of the free world,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, for his part, reacted on X.