Israel-Hamas war: IDF's Rafah assault prep will 'take time'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel's army will keep operating in the central Gaza Strip as it prepares for operations in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians are sheltering

Israel's Netanyahu says the IDF will continue operations in Khan Younis and refugee camps in central Gaza as it readies an assault on Rafah in the south. (photo: DW)
Israel's Netanyahu says the IDF will continue operations in Khan Younis and refugee camps in central Gaza as it readies an assault on Rafah in the south. (photo: DW)


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that "it will take same time" for Israeli forces to prepare an assault on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

He said Israel's military will continue to operate in Khan Younis and refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip to eliminate and capture Hamas officials while preparing for operations further south.

The United States and others have called for Israel to hold off on launching major ground operations in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians are sheltering.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the Middle East to push for an agreement to secure a temporary pause in fighting and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

UNRWA: UN probe finds issues in 'critical areas'

A preliminary investigation into the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has been presented to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres following accusations by Israel that 12 of its staff had been involved in the October 7 attacks.

The UN fired the implicated staff members and launched an internal investigation, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, to assess the agency's neutrality. Israel has not made public any evidence to support its accusations against UNRWA.

The interim report found that "UNRWA has in place a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the Humanitarian Principle of neutrality," UN spokesperson Florencia Soto Nino said on Wednesday.

But investigators "also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed," Soto Nino said without saying what these were.

"The review group will now develop concrete and realistic recommendations on how to address these critical areas to strengthen and improve UNRWA," Soto Nino said.

A final report on UNRWA will be presented to Guterres on April 20 and will be made public.

Saudi relief fund pledges to boost UNRWA funding by $40 million

A humanitarian agency in Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that it would increase funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, by $40 million (€36.9 million).

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) aims to partially plug the funding gap left after major backers, including Germany, suspended funding following accusations by Israel that a dozen of its 13,000 staff in Gaza had been involved in the October 7 terror attacks.

While some countries, such as Canada, Australia and Sweden, are once again sending funds, the agency's biggest backer, the United States, has not. The US had annually provided between $300 million and $400 million to UNRWA.

"The US is our largest, largest donor so no amount of compensation by other donors, as generous as they are, can actually fill the gap that is left by the US," UNRWA spokesperson Tamara al-Rifai said.

According to UNRWA's website, the agency provides shelter, food and health care for almost 2 million people in Gaza. The UN has warned that northern Gaza faces imminent famine due to Israel's onslaught and the lack of aid able to reach people in the enclave.

Germany's Scholz repeats call for Gaza cease-fire

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has again called for a cease-fire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages and improved access to the Gaza Strip for urgent aid deliveries.

"What must now be achieved as quickly as possible is a longer-term ceasefire in which the hostages are released and those who have died are handed over so that their relatives can mourn with dignity," he said in a statement to the Bundestag on Wednesday.

"I don't want to raise false hope here," said Scholz of a possible cease-fire. "But I do have the impression that it is more realistic at the moment than it has been for a long time, which is a long way from being successful."

Netanyahu says preparing for Rafah operation 'will take some time'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he expected the Israeli military's preparations for an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to "take some time."

"While we are preparing to enter Rafah, which will take some time, we continue to operate with all our might," Israeli newspaper Times of Israel and Reuters news agency cited Netanyahu as saying.

"We continue to operate in Khan Younis, in the central camps, for the elimination and capture of senior Hamas officials as we just did in Shifa Hospital while eliminating hundreds of terrorists," Netanyahu added.

Israel's planned assault on Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have fled fighting in the rest of the Gaza Strip, has drawn condemnation, even from Israel's allies.

Netanyahu rejected a request from US President Joe Biden to call off the planned operation during a call on Monday.

Canada to halt arms exports to Israel — reports

Canada will cease sending arms shipments to Israel, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told the Toronto Star.

In a brief statement, Joly described the decision as "a real thing."

The AFP news agency also reported the news, citing a Canadian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The situation on the ground makes it so that we can't" export any kind of military equipment to Israel, AFP quoted its source as saying.

Israel slammed the decision, saying it "undermines Israel's right to self-defense against Hamas terrorists."

"History will judge Canada's current action harshly," Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Canada has provided Israel annually with billions of dollars in military aid.

Following the October 7 terror attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on southern Israel and Israel's military response in Gaza, Canada reduced its weapons shipments to Israel to non-lethal equipment.

Israeli Defense Minister Gallant to visit Washington

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is due in Washington DC next week, where he will be discussing Israel's planned Rafah offensive in Gaza, which Washington opposes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office also said a delegation would visit Washington at "the request of US President Joe Biden."

Gallant is due to meet US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

A date for the meeting is yet to be announced, but the pair are due to discuss "developments in the war against the Hamas terrorist organization, force build-up, humanitarian issues and areas of bilateral military cooperation," the Israeli Defense Ministry said.

Netanyahu insists on the Rafah operation, saying it would be necessary to eliminate Hamas. The Islamist militant group, which rules Gaza, is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, EU and several Arab countries.

Some 1.4 Palestinian civilians are currently in Rafah, which lies in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt. Many of them have fled from other areas of the devastated strip.

104 killed in past 24 hours in Gaza, Health Ministry says

Some 104 Palestinians have died in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Some 162 were also injured, the ministry added.

This brings the toll of those who have died since October 7 to 31,923, in addition to 74,096 injuries, according to local officials.

While the ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, UN agencies consider the data largely reliable.

IDF says it killed 90 gunmen at Gaza's al-Shifa hospital

The Israeli military said it killed some 90 gunmen and arrested 160 in a raid on Gaza's al-Shifa hospital.

"Over the past day, troops eliminated terrorists and located weapons in the hospital area, while preventing harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment," the military said in a statement.

Israel's raid on the hospital began in the early hours of Monday. The military said it sent in special forces backed by infantry and tanks based on intelligence that the hospital was again being used by gunmen.

Al-Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital before the war, is now one of the few health facilities even partially operational in the north of the territory and had been sheltering displaced civilians.

When troops first raided the hospital last November, Israel came under heavy criticism. Troops uncovered tunnels they said were used by Hamas as command and control centers. Hamas and the hospital's medical staff deny that the hospital was used for military purposes or as a shelter for militants.

Blinken due in Middle East in Gaza diplomacy push

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to the Middle East on Wednesday for his sixth visit since Israel's war with Hamas began.

Blinken landed in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday afternoon, where he is meeting Saudi leaders in Jeddah.

Blinken will also meet Egyptian leaders in Cairo on Thursday to discuss talks brokered by Egypt and Qatar on an agreement as well as efforts to get more aid into Gaza, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

The top US diplomat is also due to visit Israel on Friday, Miller said on Wednesday.

He will push during the tour for an agreement to secure a temporary pause in fighting and the release of hostages held by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Talks on a cease-fire resume this week in Qatar. But weeks of tough negotiations have yet to produce an agreement between Israel and Hamas that Washington hopes will help alleviate the humanitarian crisis gripping Gaza.

Blinken said he would also continue to discuss arrangements for governing, securing and rebuilding post-conflict Gaza.

"We've been doing a lot of work since January, particularly with our Arab partners, and we’ll be pursuing those conversations, as well as discussing what is the right architecture for lasting regional peace," he said at a news conference during at a previous stop in Manila.

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Published: 21 Mar 2024, 8:36 AM