Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given orders for troops to prepare for potential entry into the densely populated area of Rafah in Gaza, as talks for a ceasefire with Hamas were scheduled to commence in Cairo. The decision to mobilise forces came in response to Netanyahu’s rejection of Hamas’s reply to a ceasefire proposal, despite US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing optimism about finding common ground in the negotiations. The move has raised concerns for the well-being of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have sought shelter in Rafah near the Egyptian border. UN Chief Antonio Guterres cautioned that a military intervention in the city would exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis.
Netanyahu, in a televised address on Wednesday, stated that he had instructed troops to be ready for operations in Rafah, emphasising the pursuit of “total victory” over Hamas within months. He criticised Hamas’s response to the ceasefire proposal, asserting that acquiescing to their “bizarre demands” would only invite further conflict. Blinken, during his visit to the region, acknowledged the challenges but saw potential in Hamas’s counter-proposal, deeming it an opportunity to continue negotiations. He stressed the commitment to relentless efforts until an agreement is reached, following discussions with Netanyahu.
Amidst these developments, the Lebanese-Israeli border has witnessed frequent exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah, since October 7. International Crisis Group President Comfort Ero highlighted the growing risk of escalation in the region, emphasising the need for caution to prevent a major miscalculation by the key players – Iran, Israel, and the US – who share a mutual reluctance to see the situation escalate.