Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the Israeli military would ensure “safe passage for the civilian population” ahead of an expected attack on the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah, dismissing fears of a “catastrophe”.
Despite international alarm over the possible massacre in the city of more than a million displaced Palestinians, Netanyahu told ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that the offensive was key to defeating Hamas.
Victory is within reach. We will do it. We will confront the remaining terrorist units of Hamas and Rafah, the last stronghold, but we will do it, he said in excerpts from an interview published on Saturday night.
“We will do this by ensuring safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said.
“We are working out a detailed plan for that,” Netanyahu added. “We’re not being frivolous about it.”
He mentioned areas north of Rafah that have been cleared and could be used as safe zones for civilians.
Hamas authorities in Gaza warned of possible “tens of thousands” of casualties in Rafah, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell joined other international voices in saying an offensive there would “cause an unspeakable humanitarian disaster”.
Israel’s main backer the United States has said it does not support a ground offensive on Rafah, warning that such an operation, if not properly planned, threatens “disaster”.
US President Joe Biden issued his strongest criticism of Israel yet on Thursday, describing Israel’s retaliation for the October 7 Hamas attack as “excessive”.
The war in Gaza sparked an unprecedented attack by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to AFP, based on official figures.
Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a major military offensive in Gaza that killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
To critics who say the attack on Rafah means crossing a red line, Netanyahu replied: “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are actually saying: ‘lose the war. Keep Hamas there’.”