‘If By Ramadan Our Hostages Are Not Home…’: Israel Warns Hamas, Says Will Launch Rafah Assault

Israel will commence its long-awaited assault against Rafah next month if Hamas does not liberate the remaining hostages in Gaza before the start of Ramadan, Israeli military cabinet member Benny Gantz warned, news agency AFP reported. Speaking at a press conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday, a retired military chief of staff Gantz stated: “The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know — if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area.”

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, is slated to start on March 10.

The Israeli government has not set a timeframe for its planned attack on the city, where the vast bulk of the 1.7 million displaced Palestinians have found shelter.

Fearing huge deaths, foreign governments and relief organisations have repeatedly asked Israel to spare Rafah, the only major Gazan city not occupied by ground forces throughout the four-month-old conflict.

Despite rising international pressure, including a direct plea from US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that the conflict cannot be concluded without advancing into Rafah.

Speaking at the same Jerusalem conference on Sunday, Netanyahu vowed “to finish the job to get total victory” over Hamas, whether or without a hostage agreement.

Gantz also stated that an attack would be conducted out in a coordinated way and in consultation with Americans and Egyptians to assist an evacuation and “minimise civilian casualties as much as possible.”

However, it is uncertain where residents may securely relocate within the constrained Gaza Strip.

The remarks come after weeks of cease-fire discussions failed to yield an agreement, with major mediator Qatar admitting over the weekend that the prospects are bleak.

Washington, Israel’s main ally and military supporter, has been pressing for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of the 130 captives that Israel believes are still being held in Gaza, including around 30 thought dead.

Israel believes many of the detainees, as well as the Hamas leadership, are locked up in Rafah.

According to an AFP assessment of Israeli numbers, the terrorists held roughly 250 individuals prisoner during the October 7 strikes that sparked the conflict and killed approximately 1,160 people in Israel.