Israel’s Ultimatum: Hamas Detainees or Gaza Raid

In a recent statement, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet warned on Sunday that if Hamas does not release the detainees held captive by the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan next month, Israel will launch a ground assault on the Gaza city of Rafah.

The New Israeli Parliament is sworn in. Photo credit: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg

Benny Gantz, in a speech to American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday, stated, “The world should know, and Hamas leaders should know: If our captives do not return home by Ramadan, the fighting will continue in the Rafah area.”

He pledged that in the event of an assault, the United States and Egypt would assist in evacuating Gazan civilians to reduce civilian casualties. Israel is exerting intense pressure, including from its closest allies, to cancel or at least ensure that civilians are given prior notice and sent to safe places before any planned attacks on Rafah.

During the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict, over ten million Palestinians from the southern part of the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, were affected as the Israeli military focused on the northern and central regions.

Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims, is expected to begin on March 10th.

Over a million civilians have sought shelter in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as Israeli forces prepare to advance into the area. © Source: Bloomberg

Gantz added, “For those who say the price is too high, I say to them clearly: Hamas has an alternative.” He continued, “They can surrender, release the detainees, and thus, the residents of Gaza can enjoy the holy holiday of Ramadan.”

Gantz’s comments did not make it clear whether Israel is putting pressure on both the release of detainees and Hamas’s surrender to halt the raid on Rafah, or if the assault would only be halted until after Ramadan if the group surrenders but releases detainees. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet commented on Gantz’s speech.

Netanyahu previously stated that a ground campaign in Rafah to eliminate remaining Hamas battalions is necessary and those advocating for Israel to stay out of the area are essentially asking Israel to concede defeat.

Gantz, a former chief of staff and opposition leader, formed a war cabinet of just five people a few days after the war began on October 7th, aiming to see Israel through the conflict via a united front.

Recent surveys suggest that Gantz is more popular among Israelis than Netanyahu, making him the most suitable candidate for the next prime minister. His National Unity Party is significantly ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud.

Gantz affirmed that Israel would continue its fight until its objectives are achieved, which includes destroying Hamas and bringing the remaining detainees back home, along with mitigating the threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He also told Jewish leaders that they oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, and that after Hamas’s massacre on October 7th, such a step is not conducive to regional stability and peace.

The conflict with Hamas began when the Iran-backed group infiltrated Gaza and launched attacks on southern Israel, killing nearly 1,200 people and capturing more than 250. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing conflict. It is not specified how many of them are combatants.

It is estimated that there are still around 130 detainees in Gaza, though the Israeli government claims that only 100 are alive.

Egyptian tension Rafah is close to Gaza’s border with Egypt and is a focal point for entry into the coastal enclave for assistance. The Egyptian government has consistently stated that it will not take refugees in collectively, arguing that it would pose a security risk and undermine the Palestinian goal of a sovereign state because Israel will not allow them to return to Gaza.

Israel has said that Rafah residents can go to some parts of Gaza to the north instead.

In recent days, satellite imagery has shown construction activity near the Gaza border in Egypt, about two miles from Rafah, where land is being cleared and a wall is being built. This has sparked speculation that the country is preparing a contingency plan to host fleeing Palestinians – a plan that Egyptian officials strongly denied over the weekend.

Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service, reiterated those comments.

He told Sky News, “We are not making any preparations towards our borders – whatever is happening is normal maintenance of our border and border closures.” “It is in no way related to any camp or shelter provision towards our borders.”

Both the European Union and the United States have classified Hamas as a terrorist group. Amid the conduct of the war, which has seen thousands killed and thousands of homes destroyed, along with shortages of food and water, some countries have accused Israel of committing war crimes.

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