Netanyahu says Israel will enter Rafah with or without US support

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that his forces will fight against Hamas in Rafah whether the U.S. supports them or not.

Netanyahu emerged defiant from a Friday meeting with his wartime Cabinet and Blinken in Israel, vowing to press on in the southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering from the war.

“I told him that I greatly appreciate the fact that for more than five months we have been standing together in the war against Hamas,” Netanyahu said in a video address. “I also said that we have no way to defeat Hamas without entering Rafah and eliminating the remnant of the battalions there.

“I told him that I hope we would do this with U.S. support, but if necessary — we will do it alone,” Netanyahu added.

During the meeting, Blinken reportedly said that Israel is losing its credibility worldwide amid the war in Gaza and that he “might not realize it until it’s too late,” according to Axios.

“You need a coherent plan, or either you’re going to be stuck in Gaza,” Blinken said, according to Axios.

Netanyahu reportedly replied that Israel will “have our hands full for decades.”

The Biden administration warned Israeli officials this week against a major ground operation in Rafah as concerns grow about deepening a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israel’s offensive has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians.

President Biden called Netanyahu personally to warn against a Rafah operation and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart to stress the need for alternatives to a ground offensive.

Blinken has also said it would be a “mistake” for Israel to move into Rafah.

Biden has stood by Israel in its war to destroy Hamas after the Palestinian militant group invaded southern Israel Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking another roughly 250 captive, about 100 of whom are still alive in Gaza.

But Democratic anger has grown as the Palestinian death toll has risen and a potential famine looms, and Arab Americans and young progressive voters are signaling they may protest against Biden over the Gaza crisis in the general election this year.

Biden has committed to airdropping supplies into Gaza, and the U.S. military is building a port off the coast of the territory to facilitate more aid delivery.

The Biden administration has also signaled it won’t support an Israeli operation into Rafah without seeing plans for an evacuation of civilians.

Netanyahu said this week he has approved a plan from his military for a ground offensive in Rafah and that he would soon approve another plan for evacuating civilians from the city, which is a major refugee camp and one of two major points of crossing for humanitarian aid into the territory.

The Israeli leader also said Friday he was working to ensure civilians can be evacuated and that more humanitarian aid can get into Gaza.

The U.S. says it has not yet seen an evacuation plan for Rafah.

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