Netanyahu Rejects UN Plea to Stay Out of Rafah

( – The United Nations has been trying to persuade Israel to keep its forces out of Rafah, the last city in Gaza that isn’t under its control. With over a million people in the city, including large numbers of refugees, the international body says combat there would cause a humanitarian catastrophe. However, Israel is insisting that it won’t call a halt to its war against Hamas until it gets its kidnapped citizens back.

UN Begs for Halt

In the four months since Israel launched its military offensive in reply to the October 7 atrocities committed by the terrorist group Hamas, its army has overrun almost all of the Gaza Strip. Now, over half the region’s population — around 1.4 million people — are crammed into the southern city of Rafah, near the Egyptian border. Israeli commando units have already raided the city, including an operation to rescue two hostages from their Palestinian captors. So far their conventional forces haven’t moved in.

With so many people in Rafah the UN, World Health Organization (WHO), and others — including the Biden administration — believe a new Israeli advance would be disastrous for Gazans. On February 14, the WHO warned that an offensive would be “a human disaster beyond imagination,” adding to calls for Israel to hold back or even call a ceasefire. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now shot down those pleas.

On February 9, Netanyahu’s office said on X (formerly Twitter) that there are four Hamas battalions in Rafah and Israel’s goal of securing its borders from terrorist attack can’t be achieved as long as they’re there. On February 16, war cabinet member Benny Gantz went further, warning that unless the remaining Israelis held hostage by Hamas are released, the Israeli Defense Forces will move in and take the city. Gantz, a former paratrooper and chief of the IDF General Staff, is a political opponent of Netanyahu and leads the center-right National Unity coalition, but on the issue of the hostages, he’s aligning himself firmly with Netanyahu’s hard-line position.

Around 250 Israeli and foreign nationals were abducted by Hamas on October 7, 2023. So far 105 have been released in exchange for a ceasefire Hamas violated on November 30, and two more rescued by the IDF. Israel believes Hamas is still holding 102 live hostages and the bodies of 31 more.

It’s likely most of the survivors are now in Rafah since Hamas has lost control of most of Gaza. The Jewish state is determined to get its people back, and if Hamas refuses to release them Rafah is the obvious next target for the rescue operation.

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