Ahead of Rafah offensive, Israel wary of global legal backlash

Rafah has become the last refuge for more than 1.4 million Palestinians displaced from the northern and central parts of the Gaza Strip

File photo of war ravaged Gaza
File photo of war ravaged Gaza


Officials in Israel have expressed concern that a potential ground operation in Gaza's Rafah could lead to international legal action against Israel. Israeli public Kan radio reported that Israel is preparing for another threat from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, with fears of arrest warrants being issued against senior Israeli officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the plan for the ground operation in Rafah, but has not allowed the army to move yet, according to Israeli media.

Also according to media reports, Israel sees the latest efforts to achieve a ceasefire and hostage deal in the Gaza war as a "last chance" before the planned attack on the city of Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

As per a senior Israeli official, talks between Egyptian and Israeli representatives in Tel Aviv on Friday were "very good" and focused. The Egyptians were apparently prepared to put pressure on the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas in order to reach an agreement.

Progress had been made in all areas of the talks, the Times of Israel quoted reports late on Friday evening as saying. Previously, the state-affiliated Egyptian television station Al-Qahira News had also reported considerable progress.

The Israeli official was also quoted as saying that Israel would not allow Hamas, in particular its leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya al-Sinwar, to delay a hostage deal in order to prevent the planned military offensive in Rafah. The army had mobilised two more reserve brigades a few days ago.

Al-Sinwar is considered the mastermind behind the attack in Israel on 7 October last year, in which around 1,200 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed and more than 200 people were abducted and taken to Gaza. Israeli forces believe al-Sinwar is hiding in tunnels below Rafah.

"This is the last chance before we go to Rafah," the Times of Israel quoted the unnamed Israeli government official as saying. "It's either an agreement or the future or Rafah."

Israel wants to smash the last remaining Hamas battalions in the town in southern Gaza, which borders Egypt. According to Israeli media, Egypt wants to reach an agreement to avert the assault on Rafah. Egypt is concerned that large numbers of Palestinians could cross the border.

Rafah has become the last refuge for more than 1.4 million Palestinians after they were displaced from the northern and central parts of the strip amid the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel for more than six months.

According to Israeli media, the latest talks between Egyptian and Israeli representatives were initially intended to focus on a limited agreement with Hamas, whereby only some female, elderly and sick hostages would be released.

Hamas had rejected a US proposal to release 40 such abductees, saying there aren't that many hostages left alive who fall into these categories. Hamas is calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a demand which Israel's government rejects.

The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip from ongoing Israeli attacks has risen to 34,356, the Hamas-run Health Ministry has said.

The ministry said on Friday that the Israeli army killed 51 Palestinians and wounded 75 others in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 34,356 and injuries to 77,368 since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on 7 October 2023, Xinhua news agency reported, citing a press statement.

The statement mentioned that some victims are still under the rubble and on the roads, with the Israeli army preventing ambulance and civil defence crew from reaching them.

Kan radio also reported that Israel is expected to begin evacuating civilians from Rafah "soon" before the planned attack on the southernmost Gazan city, following a meeting of the Israeli wartime cabinet on Thursday.

According to the report, Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff Herzl Halevi presented attack plans to members of the wartime cabinet and said the ground forces were ready to move in once the order was given.

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