Israel's war cabinet indicates date for Rafah ground invasion

Israel's war cabinet indicates date for Rafah ground invasion

A member of Israel’s war cabinet has indicated a ground invasion of Rafah may begin around Ramadan, which is expected to start on 10 March.

Retired general Benny Gantz, part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three-member war cabinet, told a conference of Jewish American leaders: “If by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue to the Rafah area.”

It marks the first time Israel’s leaders have publicly discussed a timeline for a ground offensive on Rafah, where more than half the enclave’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

Ramadan – the Islamic holy month of fasting – has historically been a tense time in the region.

Mr Gantz’s comments come as Mr Netanyahu brushed off calls to stop the military offensive in Gaza and vowed to “finish the job”.

He also said demands by Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group were “delusional”, as ceasefire negotiations struggle to progress.

The US, Israel’s top ally, says it still hopes to broker a ceasefire and hostage-release agreement, and envisions a wider resolution of the war.

Washington also said it will veto another draft UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, with its UN ambassador warning against measures that could jeopardize “the opportunity for an enduring resolution of hostilities”.

But Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet adopted a declaration on Sunday saying Israel “categorically rejects international edicts on a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians” and opposes any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

The international community overwhelmingly supports an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement, but Mr Netanyahu’s government is filled with hardliners who oppose Palestinian independence.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said southern Gaza’s main medical center, Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, “is not functional any more” after Israeli forces raided it last week.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a team was not allowed to enter the hospital on Friday or Saturday. He said about 200 patients remain, including 20 who need urgent referrals elsewhere.

But Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant claimed at least 200 militants surrendered at the hospital. He also claimed that Hamas is defeated in Khan Younis and is largely leaderless in Gaza.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 70 medical personnel were among those arrested, along with patients, leaving 150 patients without medical care.

It said Israel refused to allow patients, including newborn babies, to be taken to other hospitals.