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Netanyahu Proceeds With Plans for Rafah Ground Invasion, Rejecting Cease-Fire Deal

WorldMiddle EastNetanyahu Proceeds With Plans for Rafah Ground Invasion, Rejecting Cease-Fire Deal


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday rejected the latest cease-fire deal proposed by Hamas, calling its demands “ludicrous,” and said Israel would move forward with plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gazan city where more than half the enclave’s population is sheltering.

Still, Mr. Netanyahu signaled he was open to more talks. He announced he was dispatching an Israeli delegation back to Qatar, where mediation efforts have been taking place.

The prime minister’s response came a day after Hamas presented a counteroffer to Israel aimed at securing a cease-fire and an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners. In a statement, Hamas said it had presented to mediators in Qatar what it called a “comprehensive vision” for a truce in the five-month war, which has devastated the Gaza Strip and has cost at least 30,000 lives there. It did not give any details of its new proposal.

Within hours, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said that “Hamas is continuing to hold to unrealistic demands.” Then on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu released a second statement saying, “Regarding the hostages — Hamas’s demands are still ludicrous,” without elaborating.

Talks on a truce have been stalled for weeks, despite the efforts of officials from the United States, Egypt and Qatar to broker a deal. Hamas has insisted on a complete Israeli withdrawal and a permanent cease-fire before a hostage-for-prisoners exchange could take place. Israel has rejected those conditions.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking during a visit to Vienna, confirmed that Hamas had issued a counterproposal but said that he couldn’t reveal the details.

The United States is working “intensively” with Israel, Qatar and Egypt “to bridge the remaining gaps,” he said. Israel’s decision to send a negotiating team to Qatar “reflects the sense of possibility — and urgency — to get an agreement.”

A weeklong cease-fire deal was successfully negotiated in late November, when Israel and Hamas agreed to a pause in fighting and an exchange of more than 100 hostages and 240 imprisoned Palestinians. Diplomats tried to extend the truce but it collapsed and fighting resumed in early December.

Mr. Netanyahu has come under growing international pressure to end the war and limit civilian deaths. President Biden has become more forceful in recent days in calling for Israel to ease the plight of civilians in Gaza, who are facing severe hunger and continue to die in Israeli airstrikes.

The American president has urged Mr. Netanyahu not to proceed with his plans to launch a major ground offensive in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are crammed into temporary shelters.

But Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to reject international pressure to refrain from a ground operation in Rafah, which Israel says is one of the last major strongholds of Hamas. On Friday, Mr. Netanyahu said he had approved plans for a military operation in Rafah and that the Israeli forces were also preparing “for the evacuation of the population.”

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.



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