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Netanyahu vows to begin Rafah offensive despite Biden’s ‘red line’ warning

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that at least 13,000 “terrorists” were among Palestinians killed during Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and vowed to press ahead with an offensive in Rafah, in the south of the enclave — a move US President Joe Biden has described as his “red line”.

Nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during the five-month-long war that began after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Gaza health ministry does not break down the death toll between civilians and Hamas militants but has said that 72 percent of those killed were women and children. Hamas dismisses Israel’s toll for militants as attempts to portray “fake victories”.

Netanyahu told German media company Axel Springer, which owns Politico and Germany’s Bild newspaper and broadcaster Welt TV, that extending Israel’s offensive into Rafah in southern Gaza was key to defeating Hamas.

“We are very close to victory… Once we begin military action against the remaining terror battalions in Rafah, it is only a question of weeks” until the intensive phase of fighting is concluded, Bild newspaper quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Biden and his aides have urged Netanyahu in strong terms not to launch a major offensive in Rafah until Israel crafts a plan for mass evacuation of civilians.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area.

Asked by MSNBC on Saturday whether an invasion of Rafah would be a red line, Biden said, “It is a red line, but I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical. So there’s no red line (in which) I’m going to cut off all weapons, so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

Politico quoted Netanyahu as saying on Sunday that Israeli forces would push into Rafah, adding: “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is, that October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

Three quarters of Hamas battalions had been destroyed and halting the offensive now would only allow them to regroup, Bild quoted Netanyahu as saying.

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