Israeli media predict offensive in Gaza’s Rafah soon

Israeli media predict offensive in Gaza’s Rafah soon

JERUSALEM, April 24 — Israel is poised to send troops into Rafah, the Gazan city it sees as the last bastion of Hamas, Israeli media reported today, saying preparations were under way to evacuate war-displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there.

The Rafah sweep, postponed for several weeks amid disputes with Washington, will happen “very soon”, the mass-circulation Israel Hayom newspaper said, citing a decision by the Israeli government after ceasefire talks with Hamas stalled.

Several other Israeli media outlets carried similar reports. Some noted footage on social media that appeared to show the erection of a tent city for Rafah evacuees.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli military spokesperson’s office had no immediate comment.

Abutting the Egyptian border, Rafah’s population has been swollen by more than a million Palestinians who fled other parts of the Gaza Strip during the more than half-year-old war.

Their fate worries Western powers as well as Cairo, which has ruled out any influx of refugees into Egyptian Sinai. Israel, under pressure given the war’s spiralling humanitarian toll, has pledged to take measures to safeguard Rafah civilians.

The Netanyahu government says Rafah is home to four intact Hamas combat battalions which, it says, have been reinforced by thousands of the Islamist group’s retreating fighters.

Victory in the Gaza war, launched after Hamas’ October 7 attack in southern Israel, would be impossible without taking Rafah, crushing Hamas and recovering any hostages which might be held there, the Netanyahu government says.

Hamas does not comment on its deployments.

In a speech on Tuesday marking the 200th day of the war, Hamas armed wing spokesperson Abu Ubaida said Israel has achieved only “humiliation and defeat” in a campaign that Gaza medical officials say has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

Hamas killed 1,200 people and abducted 253 on October 7, according to Israeli tallies. Another 262 Israeli troops have been killed in ground fighting during which most of the Gaza Strip has been overrun, the military says.