Middle East Crisis: Netanyahu Again Vows to Invade Rafah ‘With or Without’ Cease-Fire Deal (2024)

Netanyahu’s pledge to invade Rafah could undermine efforts to reach a cease-fire deal.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel once again pledged on Tuesday to launch a ground invasion into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, a move that could undermine efforts to negotiate a cease-fire agreement after seven months of war in the Palestinian enclave.

The United States, Qatar and several countries have been pushing to get a cease-fire deal, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visiting the region and expectations rising that Hamas and Israel might be edging closer to an agreement.

But with Hamas arguing that any agreement should include an end to the war, and with right-wing politicians in Israel threatening to leave the government coalition if the long-planned incursion into Rafah is delayed, Mr. Netanyahu made clear that Israel would reserve the right to keep fighting.

“The idea that we will halt the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question,” he said in a meeting with the families of hostages held in Gaza, according to a statement from his office. “We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there — with or without a deal, in order to achieve the total victory.”

Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they plan to move into Rafah, but over the weekend, they made clear they were open to holding off if it meant they could secure the release of hostages taken when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. One official also suggested that Israel was using the threat of an imminent military maneuver to press the armed group into a hostage deal.

In anticipation of an offensive, some families in Rafah have been moving north into areas of Gaza that had already been attacked by Israeli forces, but on Tuesday, the scale of the evacuation remained unclear. As of last week, more than one million Gazans, many of them previously displaced from other parts of the territory by Israeli bombardment, were still sheltering in the city in makeshift tents.

American officials and other allies have been pressing Israel to either avoid an assault on Rafah or develop specific plans to adequately minimize civilian casualties.

On Tuesday, Mr. Blinken met with officials in Jordan to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, and to press for peace and an increase in humanitarian aid. There was no immediate reaction from the State Department to Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain spoke to Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday, his office said in a statement. The British leader “continued to push for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow more aid in and hostages out” and said that Britain’s focus was on de-escalation, it said.

For weeks, cease-fire talks had been at a standstill. But Israeli officials have said that negotiators have reduced the number of hostages they want Hamas to release during the first phase of a truce, opening up the possibility that the stalled negotiations could be revived.

A senior Hamas official said on social media on Monday that the group was studying a new Israeli proposal.

A Hamas delegation met with officials in Egypt’s intelligence service on Monday, according to a senior Hamas official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive discussions between Hamas and Egypt.

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting.

Damien Cave

The White House presses Hamas to accept the cease-fire deal on the table.


The White House said on Tuesday that “time is of the essence” for cease-fire talks in the Middle East as negotiators tried to broker a deal to pause the war in Gaza and secure the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

President Biden’s advisers feel a sense of urgency to finally break through the months of stalemate while Israeli leaders appear open to an agreement and before they open their long-threatened military assault on Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than one million Palestinians have taken refuge.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re overly confident,” John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, told reporters, attempting to lower expectations given the history of failed talks until now. “I would say we’re being very pragmatic about this. This is a good proposal. This is a very good proposal and Hamas ought to jump on it and time is of the essence.”

The American-sponsored proposal would halt the war for about six weeks in its first stage in exchange for the release of women, older men and hostages with health conditions. Israel has agreed to lower the number to be released in that first stage to 33 from 40 and would also release hundreds of Palestinians held in its prisons.

Mr. Kirby made clear that the United States remained opposed to an Israeli ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah without an effective plan to protect civilians, which American officials have said they have not seen. “We don’t want to see a major ground operation in Rafah,” Mr. Kirby said. “That hasn’t changed.”

But he gave Israel credit for doing more to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza since Mr. Biden threatened to rethink his support for Israel’s military operation during a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel four weeks ago.

He said more than 5,000 trucks of food, medicine and other goods have entered Gaza since then, with about 200 more trucks a day and sometimes as many as 400.

Peter Baker

As Israel plans to invade Rafah, a family makes the difficult choice to uproot itself again.

Mohammed Foara said his wife could not stop talking about how much she wanted to flee Rafah, where their family was among more than a million people who had sought safety from Israeli bombardment and fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Their oldest child had already been killed by an airstrike in Nuseirat, in central Gaza, where the family had sheltered before they came to Rafah. As Israel warned it was preparing to invade Rafah, she asked him: Is that not reason enough to leave?

Finally, Mr. Foara agreed, he said, and the family packed up their meager possessions and moved for a fifth time in nearly seven months of war. They joined some Palestinians who have begun to flee, once again, this time leaving Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, before a widely anticipated Israeli attack.

“I escaped Rafah just to keep the other children alive and safe,” said Mr. Foara. He has been haunted by the death of his son, Anas, 21, who was killed by an airstrike when he went out to find cigarettes.

“I fear for them more and more,” he said of his four surviving children.

Israel has called Rafah the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza, and said that invading the city is key to its goal of dismantling the group behind the Oct. 7 attack, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 people, according to local health authorities. Some 1.7 million — in a territory of roughly 2.2 million — have been driven from their homes, many of them multiple times, according to the United Nations.

The Foara family fled their home in Gaza City early in the war, where they moved within the city twice, and then spent four months in Nuseirat. They went to Rafah after their son was killed.

They are now in an area near the central Gazan city of Deir al Balah, in a camp that is so new that there are not yet any humanitarian groups working there, and there is no medical assistance, either, Mr. Foara said. They received a nylon-and-cloth tent from local residents marked with the number 170.

“That means there are more than 170 families in this area,” Mr. Foara said on a recent day last week, the hot sun beating down. “I hope to not evacuate this place.”

Residents in the area who have remained in their homes amid the war helped Mr. Foara build the tent, he said, and gave his family water.

At the entrance to the camp, there are vendors selling falafel and other food at prices that have been inflated by the war. A tank of water costs about $100, but before the war it cost about $25, Mr. Foara said.

That is too much for Mr. Foara, who before the war was paid about $400 per month as a civil servant for the Palestinian Authority, a rival to Hamas. He is determined to keep his family alive, but sometimes the weight of the tragedy that has befallen them — and the rest of Gaza — is almost too much to bear.

“I feel like I am just a block of negative feelings — anxiety and depression,” he said. “We used to watch these scenes of tents in Yemen and Syria, and now it is a reality here.”

Liam Stack and Bilal Shbair

The U.N.’s top court declined to ban Germany’s weapons sales to Israel.


The United Nations’ highest court on Tuesday rejected a request from Nicaragua to order Germany to stop supplying arms to Israel.

The judges on the International Court of Justice said no special court order was required, citing Germany’s arguments that it has stringent licensing standards to avoid the misuse of weapons and that it had issued few export licenses since late last year.

The judges’ decision pertained to a broader case brought by Nicaragua against Germany with potentially wide implications on whether suppliers of military aid to Israel share some responsibility for how the weapons are used.

Still, the judges did not grant Germany’s request to throw out the main complaint that Nicaragua has filed against Germany, meaning that case is likely to go ahead.

Nicaragua has argued that Germany is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention because its military and financial aid to Israel is facilitating the possible commission of genocide in Gaza.

A final decision on that Nicaraguan complaint may have to await the court’s decision on a separate case brought by South Africa, alleging that Israel has committed genocide. The decision in the South African complaint could take up to two years.

With the death toll rising from the conflict in Gaza, however, Nicaragua had also asked the I.C.J. to issue an emergency order for Germany to halt its arms exports to Israel altogether and to ensure that weapons already supplied were not unlawfully used.

A majority of the panel declined the request in a 15 to 1 vote, but the court said in its ruling that it “remains deeply concerned about the catastrophic living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

The ruling, signed by the court’s president, Nawaf Salam, reminded nations of their obligation to avoid providing arms that might be used to violate the Genocide Convention. “All these obligations are incumbent upon Germany as a State party to the said Conventions in its supply of arms to Israel,” the decision said.

William Schabas, a professor of law at Middlesex University in London, said that warning “has provided ammunition to lawyers who will challenge arms shipments to Israel before domestic courts, as is happening right now in several countries.”

The German Foreign Ministry welcomed the court’s ruling.

“Germany is not a party to the conflict in the Middle East — on the contrary: We are working day and night for a two-state solution,” the ministry said in a statement on social media.

The statement added that Germany was also working to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches Gazans and that Hamas was responsible for setting off a “spiral of suffering” in the region, against which it said Israel had a right to defend itself.

Germany and Nicaragua are parties to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which binds them to act to prevent genocide, defined as the intent to destroy a group not only by killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm, but also by inflicting “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Israel has repeatedly denied accusations that it is carrying out a genocide in Gaza, arguing that its military has worked to preserve civilian life and that Hamas has used civilians as human shields.

Earlier this year, the I.C.J. found in the South African case that the risk of genocide taking place was plausible. The court issued separate interim orders, requested by South Africa, specifying that Israel must prevent its forces in Gaza from taking actions that are banned under the Genocide Convention, must prevent and punish public statements that constitute incitements to genocide, and must allow more access to humanitarian aid. The judges also called for immediate release of all hostages still held by Hamas.

Germany, a staunch ally of Israel, is second only to the United States in providing it with military assistance. But in presenting its case before the I.C.J., it argued that its shipments to Israel are always licensed under German and European rules. The main thrust of Germany’s argument was that almost all of its recent military assistance to Israel was nonlethal aid.

Unlike Germany, which has given the I.C.J. full jurisdiction, the United States has shielded itself and on most issues has to consent to a case. It has protected itself even further from the Genocide Convention, signing the convention but explicitly refusing the court’s jurisdiction here.

Critics of the Nicaraguan government say that its pursuit of Germany for breaking international law is hypocritical: A recent U.N. report accused Nicaragua of “systematic human rights violations” and increasing repression of government opponents at home.

Erika Solomon contributed reporting.

Marlise Simons reporting from Paris

Germany’s military support of Israel is being challenged, despite the I.C.J.’s decision.


Even as the U.N.’s highest court declined to order Germany to stop sending arms to Israel, another lawsuit in a German court sought to cut off the flow of military aid.

Several rights groups filed a joint lawsuit against the German government in an administrative court in Berlin in early April. The suit seeks to suspend the delivery of weapons yet to be sent to Israel under current export licenses issued by the German government, and to block any additional arms deliveries. This week, the court said it expected that Germany would not authorize any more exports until it had issued its ruling.

Germany, a staunch ally of Israel, is the second-largest provider of military aid to the country after the United States.

Earlier this month, Nicaragua brought a case against Germany at the International Court of Justice, where it argued that Germany was violating the Genocide Convention by providing Israel with military and financial aid amid Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. On Tuesday, the I.C.J. decided against issuing an emergency order that would have required Germany to stop providing arms to Israel.

Germany’s legal team had argued before the I.C.J. that most of its exports to Israel were nonlethal, such as protective gear, communications equipment and defense equipment against chemical hazards.

But Nicaragua and the rights groups have mentioned that Germany has delivered 3,000 antitank weapons, as well as items like spare parts for vehicles, which could be used as part of the ongoing military offensive even though they were described as nonlethal.

The Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, or E.C.C.H.R., joined with three Palestinian legal and human rights organizations to file the lawsuit on behalf of five Palestinians living in Gaza who have lost family members during Israeli rocket attacks.

The lawyers argue that Germany is violating its obligations under international law, as well as its own weapons control act, by supplying arms to Israel. The weapons, they say, are “being used to kill and displace civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure in Gaza, as well as control and limit the transfer and distribution of humanitarian aid.”

On Tuesday, Berlin’s administrative court said it had told the German government last week that it must not issue any additional export licenses while the case is being deliberated, and to inform the court if it intends to export any more weapons so that the court could make an emergency ruling on the matter. A ruling is currently expected by June, according to German news media reports.

“A basic prerequisite for a rules-based and human rights-oriented German foreign policy is respect for the law in its own decision-making,” Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of the E.C.C.H.R., said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed on April 12. “Germany cannot remain true to its values if it exports weapons to a war where serious violations of international humanitarian law are apparent.”

Israel’s conduct in the war has increased both international and domestic pressure on the German government to take a tougher stance toward Israel.

In recent months, Germany has begun to signal the limits of its support for Israel’s military campaign: It has voiced objections to Israeli plans to attack the southern border town of Rafah, where more than a million Gazans have sought shelter. Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, said during a visit to Israel last month that she would send a delegation to the country to “remind” it of its obligations under international humanitarian law.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel once again pledged to launch a ground invasion into Rafah, despite ongoing efforts to negotiate a cease-fire agreement in the war in Gaza.

Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze

Blinken’s Mideast tour continues in Jordan, where he discussed humanitarian aid for Gaza.


Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited a warehouse in Jordan on Tuesday where workers were loading trucks for the first attempt to send medical and food aid overland from Jordan to the Israel-Gaza border crossing of Erez. He praised the start of the new aid corridor and also said a pier being built by the U.S. military to bring aid by sea to coastal Gaza would be operational in about one week.

“This is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done,” he told reporters traveling with him across the Middle East this week. “And in particular, we have to make sure our focus is not on inputs, but on impact and really measuring whether the aid that people need is getting to them in an effective way.”

Distribution of aid in Gaza has been a challenge, especially in the devastated northern part of the strip. That has been made more difficult by the fact that the Biden administration recently said the United States had stopped giving money to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main aid agency operating in the strip, after Israel accused some of its workers of taking part in the Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.

The trucks bound for Erez are organized by the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, and the aid has been donated by various international groups. The first of these trucks were scheduled to leave the warehouse near the city of Zarqa, Jordan, on Tuesday night and to arrive at Erez on Wednesday, when Mr. Blinken will be in Israel to speak with Israeli officials. Workers put wooden pallets of boxes of aid onto the trucks using forklifts.

Shortly before arriving at the warehouse in the early evening, Mr. Blinken met with several Palestinian women who had left Gaza during the war and who still have family members there.

“I heard the suffering that they endured and that their friends and family continue to endure every day,” Mr. Blinken said.

Mr. Blinken also called on Hamas to commit to an agreement to release some civilian hostages in exchange for a temporary cease-fire and the liberation of scores of Palestinian prisoners.

The Biden administration is trying to increase pressure on Hamas to accept the deal. Israeli officials said this week that they were willing to lower their demand for the number of hostages in an initial release to 33 from 40.

Mr. Blinken discussed the proposed deal at meetings in Saudi Arabia on Monday and again in Jordan on Tuesday. He planned to do the same in Israel on Wednesday, according to State Department officials.

After arriving in Jordan on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Blinken first went to separate meetings with the foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, and with King Abdullah II.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said Mr. Blinken and the Jordanian king discussed the cease-fire proposal along with Jordan’s humanitarian aid contributions to Gaza.

On his seventh trip to the Middle East since the war began last October, Mr. Blinken and his aides have been trying to work on a range of issues, including Israel’s continuing need for U.S. weapons, the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza and a plan for a political solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before he went to the aid warehouse on Tuesday, Mr. Blinken also met with Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations coordinator for Gaza, to discuss humanitarian aid needs in Gaza.

“This is a critical moment in making sure that everything that needs to be done is actually being done,” Mr. Blinken said at the start of the meeting.

In talks with Jordanian officials, Mr. Blinken also spoke about issues involving the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Biden administration has called for a more technocratic Palestinian Authority, which is considered by many Palestinians to be authoritarian and corrupt, in the hopes that it could help govern postwar Gaza — an idea that Israel’s government opposes. Jordanian officials have close ties with Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the authority, and other prominent Palestinians in the organization. Mr. Blinken has not met with Mr. Abbas on his trip.

Edward Wong traveling with the U.S. secretary of state in the Middle East

Officials from Hamas and Fatah, longtime rivals, met in China.


Officials from Hamas and Fatah, the main Palestinian factions that have long competed for power in Gaza and the West Bank, met in Beijing recently for what Chinese officials on Tuesday called “in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”

The discussions in Beijing were not expected to produce much. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has deepened support for Hamas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority — controlled by Fatah — has administered cities and towns for decades. U.S. officials have suggested that the Palestinian Authority could help govern a postwar Gaza, though that would most likely require approval from Hamas.

And that kind of power-sharing would require more compromise than currently seems possible. Fatah and Hamas met in late February in Russia without any apparent progress toward a unified government. They remain canyons apart on many issues, especially with Fatah demanding that Hamas dismantle its armed wing — a move that the militant group has repeatedly dismissed in the past.

And yet, for Beijing, the meetings most likely served a larger purpose: to present China as a great power and peacemaker in opposition to the United States.

Beijing helped restore diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and it has also floated a set of principles to end the conflict in Ukraine, although Ukraine and its Western allies have said those principles lack credibility. Declaring solidarity with the Palestinian cause adds to the case China hopes to make to smaller countries around the world that feel alienated by the West, according to analysts.

“The thread which ties these initiatives to Beijing’s broader foreign policy is its claim to be able to represent developing countries, or what they like to call the ‘global south,’” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“Such gestures, and they are in large part gestures for the moment,” he added, “fits with China’s current priorities, which is to learn the habits of a great power with the heft and skill to bring warring parties to the table.”

The officials who attended the gathering in the Chinese capital included Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of Hamas’s political wing, and Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, according to Palestinian officials.

Lin Jian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing on Tuesday that representatives of Hamas and Fatah had “recently” held talks in Beijing and had agreed to continue a dialogue. He did not specify when the meeting was held.

Fatah and Hamas have a fraught history. When Israel withdrew all its troops and citizens from Gaza in 2005, it handed power there to the Palestinian Authority. But Fatah lost a legislative election the next year to Hamas. In 2007, Hamas seized power in Gaza in a short and brutal civil war, dividing the Palestinians not only territorially, but politically.

Joy Dong contributed research.

Damien Cave and Adam Rasgon reporting from Jerusalem

Biden speaks to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to press for Hamas’s agreement on a new cease-fire.


President Biden spoke on Monday with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar as he sought to increase pressure on Hamas to accept a deal that would result in a temporary cease-fire in the war in Gaza and the release of some of the hostages held there.

According to a statement from the office of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, he and Mr. Biden discussed the negotiations and Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease-fire. They also reiterated their support for a two-state solution, discussed the importance of containing the conflict to the region and emphasized their opposition to a military escalation in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which Israel seems poised to invade.

Mr. Biden also spoke on Monday with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar. According to the White House, Mr. Biden urged the Qatari leader “to exert all efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas,” saying that “this is now the only obstacle” to an immediate cease-fire.

Mr. al-Sisi and Mr. al-Thani have been prime intermediaries with Hamas through months of fitful negotiations to reach a deal to halt the hostilities, and Mr. Biden hopes they will prod the group’s leader, Yahya Sinwar, to accept the U.S.-brokered proposal on the table. On Sunday, Mr. Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, expressed a hopeful view of the prospects for an agreement. “In recent days, there has been progress in talks,” she told reporters at the White House.

Like other American officials, Ms. Jean-Pierre said that Hamas, not Israel, was the obstacle to an agreement.

“The onus is indeed on Hamas,” she said. “There is a deal on the table, and they need to take it.”

Peter Baker reporting from Washington

Middle East Crisis: Netanyahu Again Vows to Invade Rafah ‘With or Without’ Cease-Fire Deal (2024)
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