Israel’s Netanyahu vows to carry out Rafah invasion, declaring there is a date

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his pledge to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, declaring: “There is a date.”

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel must send ground forces into Rafah, saying it is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza.

But the international community, including the US, opposes the operation, saying the roughly 1.4 million civilians seeking shelter there will be in danger.

Israel has insisted it has a plan to protect the civilians.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians walk through the destruction in the wake of an Israeli air and ground offensive in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on Monday (Fatima Shbair/AP)

“It will happen. There is a date,” he said, without elaborating.

He spoke as Israeli negotiators were in Cairo discussing international efforts to broker a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Israel’s top ally, the US, has said invading Rafah would be a mistake and has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians.

Israel is purchasing 40,000 tents to prepare for the evacuation of Rafah, an Israel official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Mr Netanyahu’s announcement came as streams of Palestinians filed into the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Monday to salvage what they could from the vast destruction left in the wake of Israel’s offensive, a day after the Israeli military announced it was withdrawing troops from the area.

Allowing people to return to Khan Younis could relieve some pressure on Rafah, but many have no homes to return to. The city also is likely filled with dangerous unexploded ordnance left by the fighting.

Israel’s military quietly drew down troops in devastated northern Gaza earlier in the war. But it has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids in areas where it says Hamas regrouped, including Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, leaving what the head of the World Health Organisation called “an empty shell”.

Israel blames Hamas for the damage, saying it fights from within civilian areas.

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