Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated his country's decision to move ahead with the ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which is crammed with Palestinian refugees, many of who were displaced from other parts of the enclave and have nowhere to go.
Dismissing the international alarm over the Rafah offensive, Netanyahu told US-based ABC News that the Israeli military would provide safe passage for the civilian population ahead of an expected assault on Rafah. He also rejected fears of a catastrophe.
"Victory is within reach. We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions and Rafah, which is the last bastion, but we’re going to do it," he says in extracts of the interview released Saturday evening.
"We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave. We are working out a detailed plan to do so," Netanyahu added. "We’re not, we’re not cavalier about this."
He also dismissed international calls for Israel to avoid carrying out a military offensive inside Rafah. "We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion," Netanyahu told ABC. "Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war. Keep Hamas there," he added.
The Prime Minister had ordered the troops to prepare an evacuation plan for the estimated 1.3 million people in the city while stating that the IDF would provide a safe passage for the civilians.
Netanyahu's statements come amid global outrage over the Rafah offensive. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said over half of Gaza's population is sheltering in the area while Dutch FM Hanke Bruins Slot said there could be "many civilian casualties". Saudi Arabia has warned of "very serious repercussions" if Rafah was stormed. Gaza's Hamas rulers said there could be tens of thousands of casualties.
Meanwhile, Israeli air strikes killed 17 people in Rafah on the Gaza border overnight, medics said on Saturday. The Israeli military too claimed that Saturday's air raids killed two Hamas operatives.
"Any Israeli incursion in Rafah means massacres, means destruction. People are filling every inch of the city and we have nowhere to go," said Rezik Salah, 35, who fled his Gaza City home with his wife and two children for Rafah early in the war.