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Israel Gives March Deadline For Release Of Hostages, Threaten Ground Offensive In Rafah

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have warned against this action, promising ‘serious repercussions’ if Rafah is overrun.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has issued a warning, stating that an offensive would be started in Rafah if Hamas does not release all captives held in Gaza by March 10.

This is the first time Israel has disclosed a potential date for its forces to invade the congested southern metropolis of Gaza.

An attack like this in Rafah, where almost 1.5 million Palestinians are seeking refuge, is facing increasing condemnation worldwide. 

Earlier, according to the UN public health agency, a crucial Gaza hospital had ceased operations as a result of an Israeli strike.

The Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, north of Rafah, was closed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) when it tried to inspect the condition.

On Thursday, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) stormed the compound after receiving intelligence that Hamas was holding captives inside.

The IDF accused Hamas of “cynically using hospitals for terror” and characterised its operation in Nasser as “precise and limited”.

While speaking on Sunday, former defence minister Gantz said, “The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know – if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, to include the Rafah area”.

Ramadan – the Islamic holy month of fasting – this year begins on 10 March.

Gantz also said Israel would act in “a co-ordinated manner, facilitating the evacuation of civilians in dialogue with our American and Egyptian partners to minimise civilian casualties”.

The Israeli war cabinet, which is made up of the leading security officers in Israel, was established a few days after terrorists headed by Hamas stormed Israel on October 7th, leaving at least 1,200 dead and capturing 253 prisoners. Israel estimates that roughly 130 captives are still being held in Gaza by Hamas.

According to reports, Gantz’s reference to Egypt might intensify rumours that Israel anticipates that some Palestinians will flee the Gaza Strip and take refuge on the Egyptian side of the border, where the government is reportedly constructing a sizable walled enclosure specifically for this purpose.

However, no evacuation plan information have been provided by Israeli officials as of yet.

As there are only three weeks left before Ramadan begins, reports from Rafah indicate that while some people are going, most are staying put and unsure of what to do.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to overthrow the Hamas militants in Rafah by going on the offensive, in defiance of international criticism.

Egypt and a few other Arab nations have cautioned on several occasions that an Israeli attack on Rafah would run the risk of forcing a large number of Palestinians into Egypt, something they find unacceptable. In the event that Rafah is overrun, Saudi Arabia has threatened “very serious repercussions”.

Numerous appeals have been made on a global scale for Israel to desist from occupying Rafah, the cramped home of Palestinians. The Gaza Strip has been mostly destroyed by Israel’s war against Hamas, which began on October 7.

Hamas has, however, blamed Israel for a lack of progress towards achieving a ceasefire deal.

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi

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