Netanyahu approves military plans for Rafah operation

The Prime Minister Officer’s described Hamas’s latest demands as unrealistic; Israeli security cabinet hears “signs are growing” that Hamas’s No. 3 leader, Marwan Issa, was killed in previous IAF airstrike.

Palestinians at the site of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 4, 2024.
(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

By Yaakov Lappin
March 15, 2024

(JNS) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the Israel Defense Forces operational plans for Rafah, Mako reported on Friday, citing the Prime Minister’s Bureau. The IDF is preparing operationally for this next stage of the war while also readying for the evacuation of Gazan civilians from Rafah, the report added.

The prime minister described, for the second day in a row, Hamas’s latest conditions for facilitating a hostage release deal as “unrealistic,” but added that an Israeli delegation is expected to take off for Doha, Qatar, for further talks after Israel’s security cabinet formulates Israel’s positions on the matter, according to the report.

Earlier on Friday, Netanyahu convened the war cabinet to go over the latest Hamas demands at the Kirya site in Tel Aviv, which also houses IDF Headquarters and the Defense Ministry.

Following that meeting, the wider Security Cabinet met at the Kirya to discuss a range of issues.

An Israeli political source told Ynet that Hamas’s unrealistic demands meant “there is nowhere to advance to” in response to an Israeli outline for a hostage-release deal, which was presented to mediators in Paris on Feb. 23. The Paris talks saw the Israeli delegation, led by Mossad director David Barnea, meet separately with Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

The wider security cabinet on Friday also heard growing evidence that Hamas’s No. 3 in command in the Gaza Strip—Marwan Issa—was killed during a March 10 Israeli Air Force airstrike on an underground compound in Nuseirat in the central part of the Strip, according to the Ynet report.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on Friday that Washington needs to see a clear and implementable plan for Rafah, including getting civilians out of harm’s way, according to Reuters.

“Blinken told reporters in Austria that the U.S. has not yet seen such a plan for a military operation in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than a million people are sheltering,” the report stated.

Also on Friday, Kan 11 reported that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signed a letter at the request of the United States, which states that Israel will use all weapons sent to it by Washington in a manner that is in line with international law and that Israel will not interfere with American humanitarian aid from entering Gaza. The report stated that versions of the letter were sent to all countries that receive U.S. weaponry in recent weeks, adding that Israel was “one of the main reasons for the initiative of producing this letter.”

In the coming weeks, Blinken will “examine Israel’s reply” and “could ask for clarifications or additional documents,” said the report, adding that this could lead the U.S. to prevent Israel from using unspecified weapons.

Three stages as part of the Hamas proposal

According to Al Jazeera, the Hamas proposal includes three stages, each lasting 42 days. The first is conditioned on an IDF retreat from the Salah Al-Din road in Gaza, which runs north to south, and from the Al-Rashid coastal road. Hamas also reportedly demanded that Gazan displaced civilians return to their homes.

This stage would involve terrorists releasing Israeli women (including female soldiers), children, elderly and ill captives in exchange for between 700 to 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners, the report said.

“Hamas said 50 Palestinian prisoners of its choosing — 30 of whom are serving life sentences — should be freed in exchange for the release of [each] one female Israeli reservist held captive in Gaza,” the report added.

A second phase would involve the declaration of a “permanent ceasefire,” a condition Israel has said is fully unrealistic. The third would see a “reconstruction process” and Israel lifting security restrictions on Gaza, the report continued.

According to previous media reports, during the Paris conference in February, an outline emerged calling for the release of 400 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli captives — 35 civilians and five female IDF soldiers.

On Thursday, Israel’s Channel 13 said an additional Hamas demand included the withdrawal of Israel from the city center, as well as from the Netzarim Corridor that splits the Gazan north from its south, enabling the IDF to control movements in the Strip.

Earlier on Friday, the IDF denied reports that it attacked dozens of Gaza residents at an aid-distribution point in Gaza City the previous day, calling the claims false.

The IDF said in a statement that on Thursday, it facilitated the passage of 31 aid trucks into Gaza and that an hour before they arrived at a humanitarian corridor, “armed Palestinians opened fire while Gazan civilians were awaiting the arrival of the aid convoy. As aid trucks were entering, the Palestinian gunmen continued to shoot as the crowd of Gazans began looting the trucks.”

Additionally, a number of Gazan civilians were run over by the trucks, the military said. “An intensive preliminary review conducted overnight by the IDF found that the IDF did not open fire at the aid convoy in Kuwait Square. A review of our operational systems and IDF forces on the ground found that no tank fire, airstrike or gunfire was carried out towards the Gazan civilians at the aid convoy. The IDF is continuing to review the incident.”

The military added, “While the IDF continues its humanitarian effort to supply food and humanitarian aid to the civilians of the Gaza Strip, Hamas terrorists continue to harm Gazan civilians who are seeking food—and Hamas is blaming Israel for it.  As a result, on the first Friday of the month of Ramadan, a smear campaign was created with the aim of spreading baseless misinformation for the sake of instigating violence in other arenas.”

Humanitarian aid
A U.S. Air Force loadmaster removes the corners from a skid plate attached to a bundle of humanitarian aid destined for an airdrop over Gaza aboard a U.S. Air Forces Central HC-130J Combat King II at an undisclosed location within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility on March 14, 2024. (Photo: U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs)

‘At every day and hour, be united’

Separately, the IDF continued striking terrorists in southern and central Gaza on Friday.

In retaliation to the launches that were carried out on Thursday towards the communities near the Gaza Strip, the IDF conducted aerial and artillery strikes into terrorist infrastructure in northern Gaza, the military said.

Troops also operated in Khan Yunis, working with the IAF to kill terrorists and locate weapons possessed by terrorists.

Several terrorists were eliminated by tank fire as well as precise sniper fire, the IDF stated. The IAF also struck an armed terror cell whose members were seen loading explosives onto a vehicle.

In central Gaza, the IDF killed around 10 terrorists over the past 24 hours, the IDF said, including in close-quarters combat.

The IDF’s 7th Brigade Combat Team also destroyed a 200-meter-long tunnel running under a pepper field and Hamas compounds in the Hamad area of Khan Yunis.

On Friday, a number of warning sirens went off in northern Israel following projectile attacks launched by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Projectile fire targeted Margaliot, Malkia and Shtula in northern Israel, sparking return IDF artillery fire at the sources of the launches.

The IAF struck Hezbollah positions in Southern Lebanese areas, including Ayta ash-Shab, Labbouneh, Wadi Hamul and Houla.

Also on Friday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi held a clarification meeting with IDF Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, commander of the IDF’s Division 98, which is in charge of the Israeli war effort in southern Gaza, and reprimanded him over comments made the previous day.

During a speech to the media on Thursday, Goldfuss stated: “We will not escape from responsibility just as we do not escape from fire. We will take responsibility for all that we did, and we bow our heads in light of our echoing failure on Oct. 7.”

At the same time, he said: “You, the leaders, must be worthy of us, of the warriors who lost their lives, to the reservists who don’t care about which side each one is from. Make sure that all play their role, that we do not return to Oct. 6, and that the effort and the sacrifice will not be in vain. Put this in your heads clearly, at every day and hour, be united. Push out the extreme and adopt the together, the connector. We in the battlefield found it, and we do not intend to give up on it.”

During Friday’s clarification meeting, Halevi said Goldfuss acted contrary to what was expected of a senior IDF commander, adding that the speech harmed military stateliness and crossed the boundary between the political and military echelons in a democratic state.

At the same time, Halevi told Goldfuss that he appreciated his professionalism and deep contribution to the IDF, “certainly during recent months,” while adding that “nothing allows him to act in the manner that he did.” Goldfuss accepted the reprimand and said the way he had acted had been mistaken, recognizing that it contravened orders, before apologizing, the IDF said.

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