Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assured the hundreds of thousands of civilians seeking protection in the city of Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip of a “safe corridor” ahead of the planned ground offensive there.
“We’re not cavalier about this,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the US broadcaster ABC News, excerpts of which were reported by the broadcaster overnight.
The Israeli military said it will provide a “safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave.” When asked where the more than one million Palestinians in the city bordering Egypt should go, Netanyahu said that “a detailed plan” was being worked out. According to the broadcaster, the entire interview was to be broadcast on Sunday.
The US government and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had spoken out clearly against military action in Rafah in recent days.
“We believe that a military operation at this time would be a disaster for these people,” said National Security Council Communications Director John Kirby on Thursday. “We would not support that.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and consequences for the entire region. Half the population of the Gaza Strip is crammed into Rafah and has nowhere else to go, he wrote on the online platform X. Egypt fears that a massive military operation in Rafah could lead to an influx of desperate Palestinians to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
On Friday, Netanyahu ordered his country’s army to prepare an offensive on Rafah.
“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas if four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah,” he said, according to his office.
In the ABC interview he said, “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war. Keep Hamas there.” Netanyahu said he agrees “with the Americans. We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” He maintained that the Israeli military has done this before and that there are “plenty of areas” north of Rafah that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has cleared, adding that Israel has provided safe passage for civilians before.
Netanyahu said “victory is within reach... We’re going to get the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah, which is
the last bastion, but we’re going to it.”