Hamas warns Israel it could halt Gaza ceasefire talks if Rafah assault happens

Hamas warns Israel it could halt Gaza ceasefire talks if Rafah assault happens
A spokesman for Hamas has said Israel's planned attack on Rafah could end ceasefire negotiations, which includes a potential hostage deal.
3 min read
20 March, 2024
Rafah is crammed full of Palestinian civilian refugees who have fled from other parts of the strip that have come under Israeli assault [Getty]

Hamas on Wednesday warned against the Israeli army carrying out a military operation on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, saying it will severely affect the ongoing negotiations regarding the return of Israeli captives held by the Palestinian movement.

"Our assessment is that any attack on Rafah will have significant repercussions on the situation of the displaced and the continuation of negotiations, blocking the path to any agreement," Hamas spokesperson Jihad Taha said in a statement to The New Arab’s Arabic language sister outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

"We demand the international community, the United Nations, global human rights and humanitarian organizations, and other relevant institutions to also stand by their responsibilities to expose and reveal the projects of genocide and Zionist massacres, and to protect our people according to international laws and conventions, condemning this criminal behavior of the terrorist occupation government."

The response by Hamas comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with a ground invasion of Rafah – where over 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering – despite the reservations even from firm ally US President Joe Biden.

NGOs and aid groups have warned the offensive could kill thousands more civilians, with 32,000 Gazans already killed, and exasperate the already dire humanitarian situation in the enclave.

The US, along with Egypt and Qatar, is part of the mediation team attempting to reach a ceasefire, or at least a temporary pause in Israel's brutal assault on Gaza.

However, Israel's determination to invade Rafah would make any deal impossible with fears negotiations could collapse entirely.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers that he conveyed to Biden that the only way for Israel to complete its stated goal of "eliminating Hamas" was by "going in on the ground".

An estimated 1.5 million Palestinians – over half of Gaza’s population – have taken refuge in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the territory. The fear is that Israel’s offensive will leave the population of the city with nowhere left to run.

Taha pointed out that mediators "had warned [Israel] against taking this step and demanded the focus to be on stopping the aggression and ensuring the success of ongoing efforts" to reach a ceasefire.

The US has said that it will not support any Israeli assault on Rafah unless Israel presents a credible plan for protecting civilian lives.

However, critical observers such as human rights organisations say that it is practically impossible for an Israeli offensive on Rafah not to involve high civilian casualties, mass displacement, and worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Israel has so far suggested moving the population out of Rafah before it begins its assault, but this has been rejected as highly implausible by most experts.

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"[T]he Zionist threat regarding an intense attack … on Rafah, come in the context of crimes, massacres, and the continuation of aggression against our people," Taha said.

The Hamas spokesman believes that the international community must do more to stop Israel than merely rhetorically condemn it.

"[Israel’s]… ground attack on Rafah… will cause a major disaster due to the presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced people… [this] requires the international community to take responsibility and curb the policy of Israel and its fascist, racist prime minister."

Israel's war on Gaza has so far killed over 31,900 Palestinians, most of whom are innocent civilians, with at least 74,000 injured.