Israel Has Set a Ramadan Deadline

Benny Gantz of Israel's war cabinet says if hostages aren't released, they'll move on Rafah
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2024 11:21 AM CST
Israel: Release Hostages or We Move on Rafah
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second on left from American flag, meets with former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief Gadi Eisenkot and former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, among others, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb. 8.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

Despite opposition from the US, Israel's planned ground offensive in the southern Gazan town of Rafah, where 1.3 million people are sheltering, will begin within weeks if Hamas doesn't release the 100 Israeli hostages thought to remain alive, a member of Israel's war cabinet said Sunday. "If by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area," Benny Gantz, a retired Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, told a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, per the Guardian. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, marked by fasting from dawn to dusk, begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. That's expected March 10, less than three weeks away. More:

  • US opposed: For the first time, the Biden administration has "explicitly backed a ceasefire" in a draft UN Security Council resolution that calls for Israel to call off its planned offensive on Rafah, per the Guardian. "Under current circumstances, a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security," it reads.
  • 'Basis for negotiations': The US draft resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire "as soon as practicable" comes in response to an Algerian draft resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The US vetoed the Algerian resolution during voting on Tuesday. It's unclear if the US resolution will come to a vote, "but it could be the basis for negotiations with other council members in the coming days," per the Guardian.
  • Rafah: Israel argues the Rafah offensive is needed to wipe out Hamas. "There were 24 regional battalions in Gaza. We have dismantled 18 of them," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday, per Fox News. "Now, Rafah is the next Hamas center of gravity." But the World Health Organization has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

  • Another exodus? In response to concerns from US President Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed civilians would be allowed to leave Rafah in advance, per Reuters. But as a majority of buildings in Gaza have been destroyed and two-thirds of the enclave remains under Israeli evacuation orders, it's unclear where the people could go. Egypt has been erecting barriers.
  • Ceasefire negotiations: Though those in Rafah may be pinning their hopes on ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, officials describe those negotiations as "stuck," per the BBC. The two sides remain far apart on a potential deal, with Hamas reportedly asking for the return of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for five female Israeli soldiers, the outlet reports.
  • Ramadan: Adding to tensions, Netanyahu has limited the number of Muslim citizens permitted to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, among the holiest sites in Islam, during Ramadan, per Reuters. Netanyahu's office said it was a "balanced decision that allows for religious freedom within the limits of the security needs." But Hamas said it was "religious warfare," per Al Jazeera.
(More Israel-Hamas war stories.)

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