May 1, 2024 - World

Netanyahu warns Israel will invade Rafah if Hamas doesn't take hostage deal

Blinken and Netanyahu

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu privately warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday that Israel will move forward with an invasion of Rafah if Hamas continues to condition a hostage deal on ending the war, two Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is deeply concerned about the possibility of an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

  • Netanyahu has been threatening to invade Rafah for months, but has held off mostly as a result of U.S. pressure.

Behind the scenes: Blinken told Netanyahu during a meeting in Jerusalem that the U.S. still opposes an Israeli operation in Rafah without a credible plan for protecting civilians in the city, the U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • Blinken said the Biden administration thinks there are a better options to deal with the Hamas battalions that remain in Rafah besides a full-scale military operation.

State of play: One of Hamas' main demands in hostage negotiations is that the second phase of the deal will include an Israeli commitment to end the war in Gaza.

  • Netanyahu told Blinken that Israel won't accept that condition, according to the Israeli officials.
  • The Israeli proposal delivered to Hamas last week included a willingness to discuss "the restoration of sustainable calm" in Gaza — short of a full-fledged commitment for ending the war, but more than Israel has agreed to so far.

What they're saying: State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement that Blinken and Netanyahu discussed efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as part of a hostage deal, and emphasized that it's Hamas who is standing in the way of a ceasefire.

  • During the meeting, Blinken raised the improvement in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza in recent weeks and reiterated the importance of accelerating and sustaining that improvement, Miller said.
  • "He also discussed the need to avoid further expansion of the conflict and updated the Prime Minister on ongoing efforts to ensure a lasting, sustainable peace in the region. The Secretary reiterated the United States' clear position on Rafah," Miller said.
  • A spokesman for Netanyahu said the prime minister told Blinken that the Israeli operation in Rafah is not conditioned on anything.
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