Israel-Hamas, the war does not stop: Rafah at the center of Netanyahu’s strategy

Raid on a stronghold in the Gaza Strip, fourteen dead. There is fear of an expansion of ground operations

Rafah fears the worst, the worst of the worst. Benjamin Netanyahu, rejecting Hamas’ counter-proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, announced that Israeli forces are “ready to operate in Rafah” in the south of the Strip close to the border with Egypt. “Hamas’s stronghold in Rafah is crucial to its survival”, headlines an analysis by the Jerusalem Post, as Israeli military operations continue in the Palestinian enclave, which began after the October 7 attack in Israel.

The crucial role of Rafah

Aid for the population of Gaza passes through Rafah, which in 2007 came under the control of Hamas, a group whose “military destruction” Netanyahu wants. Almost half of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza have taken refuge in the Rafah area and, as the Guardian highlighted, the tent cities now extend to the cemeteries. Hundreds of thousands live crowded together with the fear of being displaced again, the newspaper wrote, underlining how the choice is whether to stay in an overcrowded city and wait for the offensive or risk moving north, towards an area where the attacks continue fighting. Panic reigns in Rafah, says al-Jazeera satellite TV.

For humanitarian workers Rafah is a “pressure cooker of desperation”. For Hamas, writes the Jerusalem Post, “control of Rafah has always been important”, it is an area of ​​”maximum importance” and, despite the “defeat” of the group “in many areas of the Gaza Strip”, Hamas “continues to dominate in Rafah”. The group, the newspaper writes, “wants to have control over aid and other things, such as contraband goods or arsenals of weapons.”

And in a Strip that has been pounded by the Israeli military for four months “it benefits from having a large number of displaced people in Rafah to use as human shields” to “survive in Gaza”. Thus “resisting Rafah is crucial to continuing dominance in Gaza.” And the Guardian underlines the importance for Israel of the ‘Philadelphi Route’, the 14 kilometers that run between the Strip and Egypt.

Raid on Rafah, fourteen dead including five children

According to the Palestinian agency Wafa, in the last few hours at least 14 people died and dozens were injured in Israeli shelling which hit two houses in the Rafah area. And among the 14 victims there would be five minors.

The rumors coming from Rafah say that everyone fears an expansion of the Israeli forces’ ground operation. On CNN, the media manager of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Al-Thawabta, said that if the IDF entered Rafah it would be “a real disaster”.

The UN chief continues to call for an immediate ceasefire and the unconditional release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip since October 7. Meanwhile, Hamas has confirmed the arrival of a delegation in Cairo “to complete ceasefire talks”. Yesterday Netanyahu said bluntly that if Israel gave in “to Hamas’ conditions” it would risk “another massacre”, like the one on 7 October. The Israeli prime minister wants “total victory”.

Yesterday the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said he was “particularly alarmed by the news that the Israeli army intends to focus soon on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have crowded together in a desperate search for safety”. According to Guterres, “such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with unspeakable consequences for the region.”

King of Jordan tours for ‘immediate ceasefire’

King Abdullah of Jordan leaves the kingdom for a tour will take it to the United States, Canada, France and Germany. These are the stages in the order reported by the Petra agency according to which the sovereign will see American President Joe Biden in Washington. Also scheduled, according to Petra without indicating the expected date of the face-to-face meeting (which according to press rumors will be early next week), are talks with other officials of the US Administration and members of Congress. The goal is “mobilize international support for an immediate ceasefire in Gazathe protection of civilians and the sufficient and stable provision of humanitarian aid”. The focus is also on the “importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a comprehensive solution that puts an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

In Ottawa, Petra reports, King Abdullah will see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and in Paris he will meet Emmanuel Macron. In Germany he will participate in the Munich Security Conference, scheduled for 16 to 18 February, with several bilateral meetings scheduled on the sidelines of the event.

Media: “Israel would allow Sinwar to go into exile”

Israel would be willing to allow the Hamas leader and mastermind of October 7th Yahya Sinwar to go into exile in exchange for the release of all hostages and the end of the presence of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This was reported by NBC, which, citing six “senior Israeli officials and advisors”, claims that the plan has been under discussion since November. “We wouldn’t care if Sinwar left, like Arafat did when he left Lebanon. We will allow that to happen as long as all the hostages are released,” an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NBC, referring to the PLO leader who obtained permission to sail from Beirut to Tunis in 1982.

Israel reportedly told American negotiators in Paris last week that it has a list of six Hamas leaders, including Sinwar and Mohamed Deif, that it wants to see out of the Gaza Strip. NBC says the plan never reached Hamas because the terrorist group has already said it would not accept the exile solution.