Israel Sets Timeline To Start Of Rafah Offensive, Issues Hamas An Ultimatum

After ceasefire negotiations have faltered, Israel has given Hamas a new ultimatum, with top Israeli war cabinet official Benny Gantz saying that Israel will launch a full assault on the southern city of Rafah if all remaining hostages aren’t released by Ramadan. The Muslim holiday begins on March 10 this year, which is a few weeks away.

“The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know — if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue to the Rafah area,” Gantz told a conference of Jewish American organizations in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Image source: Alamy

There have been airstrikes and sporadic ground raids on some parts of the refugee-packed city; however, the full assault has yet to come. On Monday 26 out of 26 European Union states issued a plea for immediate ‘humanitarian pause’ and for the impending Rafah operation to be halted. Hungary was the lone dissenter.

“To those saying the price is too high, I say this very clearly: Hamas has a choice — they can surrender, release the hostages, and the citizens of Gaza will be able to celebrate the holy holiday of Ramadan,” Gantz added in his statement.

This marks the first time Israeli leadership has issued a clear timeline on the start of the Rafah offensive.

Israel, following recent weeks of mounting pressure from Washington and other allies, has sought to assure the West that it will seek to evacuate those civilians willing to leave Rafah before the full assault begins. 

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi earlier this month explained, “We know that it is more difficult for us to fight in an environment where there are over a million people and another 10,000 Hamas operatives.”

The then pledged to allow for the safe exit of civilians. It’s believed the city has been inundated with over a million internally displaced since the war started after Oct.7. “In previous parts of the war, we sought to isolate the population. We have the capabilities to do it. We did it in Gaza City. We did it in Khan Younis. We did it in the central camps [of Gaza],” Halevi said.

As of last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also affirmed Israel is committed to civilian evacuations before the full offensive kicks off:

“We are going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” Netanyahu said.

Asked by host Jonathan Karl where 1.4 million Palestinians are supposed to go, he responded: “The areas that we have cleared north of Rafah, there are plenty of areas there, but we are working out a detailed plan to do so.”

But there’s as yet no clear evidence of a massive evacuation of civilians from Rafah, and in reality the big question remains: where would they go?

Refugee tent city on outskirts of Rafah. Source: Xinhua Agency

Some international leaders have accused Israeli officials of simply floating false hopes and rhetoric in order to calm Western allies, particularly the US. In Europe there’s a move to prevent more arms from reaching Israel amid accusations of mass human rights violations, also as the Netherlands has been forced by a court to temporarily halt transfers of F-35 parts.


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