Netanyahu: Rafah operation will put Israel weeks away from ‘total victory’ over Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the military operation into Gaza’s Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in tent cities, would put Israel within weeks of “total victory” over Hamas.

Negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza have resumed in Doha, state-linked Egyptian media reported, but Netanyahu said any deal would not prevent the Rafah offensive.

“If we have a (ceasefire) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen,” he told CBS.

“If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway. It has to be done, because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach — not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation.”

An Israeli delegation was in Paris on Friday to discuss a deal on a fresh ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The talks then restarted in Doha, including Hamas representatives.

“We’re all working on it. We want it. I want it. Because we want to liberate the remaining hostages,” Netanyahu said.

“I can’t tell you if we’ll have it, but if Hamas goes down from its delusional claims and brings them down to Earth, we’ll have the progress that we all want.”

During the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Palestinian militants took some 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a new deal.

International pressure for a ceasefire has mounted in recent weeks, as the death toll from Israel’s military offensive on the Palestinian territory nears 30,000, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas — which rules Gaza — in response to its October attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Asked about US demands for Israel to protect civilians in Rafah, Netanyahu said his military chiefs would on Sunday show him “a dual plan — a plan to evacuate and a plan to dismantle those remaining (Hamas) battalions.”

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