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Blinken stresses civilian safety as Israel readies Rafah offensive

The IDF has been instructed to prepare for operations in the southern Gaza city, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 7, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 7, 2024. Credit: IDF.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday emphasized the importance of protecting civilians during the Israel Defense Forces’ upcoming Rafah operation, but stopped short of suggesting any American intervention.

“Any military campaign, military operation, that Israel undertakes, needs to put civilians first and foremost in mind,” said Blinken at a press conference in Tel Aviv. “This is especially true in the case of Rafah where there are somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza.”

The press conference was delayed for over two hours as Blinken met privately with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that the IDF will be conducting operations in Rafah after wrapping up operations in Khan Yunis.

“Now we are entering the main bastion of Hamas and we have instructed the IDF to prepare to operate in Rafah and the two central camps. The last fortresses of Hamas,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem.

The premier stressed that the IDF will “adhere to international law and will ensure a safe passage [of] the civilian population outside of the combat zone.”

More than a million Gazans headed to the Israeli-designated humanitarian zone in Rafah in the days and weeks after the IDF began its ground invasion of northern Gaza on Oct. 27. Israel is working to destroy Hamas in Gaza after the terrorist group’s bloody rampage across the northwestern Negev on Oct. 7, in which 1,200 mostly civilians were murdered, thousands more wounded and over 250 taken captive.

Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes as it seen from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 31, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Earlier Wednesday, Blinken and Netanyahu held a “long and in-depth meeting in private” in Jerusalem. Following the one-on-one encounter, an extended meeting took place with the participation of Gallant and other senior officials.

Blinken warned Netanyahu and Gallant that the White House is “very concerned” about the looming expansion of the IDF operation into Rafah, Axios reported.

The pending offensive in the city is also causing concern in Cairo, and Kan reported that during Wednesday’s meetings Blinken was promised that Israel would only start military operations in Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor in full coordination with Egypt.

The Philadelphi Corridor is an 8.7-mile-long security buffer running the entire length of the Gaza-Egyptian border. Since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, the Philadelphi Corridor has been a critical arms smuggling route for the terror group, with multiple tunnels running under it.

According to the report, a Rafah invasion is not imminent, as Israel will need to evacuate the over one million Gazans relocated to the southern region first, which will require coordination with the Egyptians.

Israeli strike kills senior Hamas police officer in Rafah

Hamas said that a senior police officer was killed in an Israeli strike on a vehicle in Rafah on Wednesday.

Majdi Abdel-Al headed the special forces of the terror group’s police force.

Palestinians at the site of a destroyed police car after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

Oct. 7 terrorists arrested in Khan Yunis

Israeli forces continue to press the offensive in the western part of the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, killing over 20 terrorists and arresting dozens over the past 24 hours, including two who participated in the Oct. 7 massacre and a member of Hamas’s Nukbha force, which led the assault on southern Israel.

In addition, Israeli forces eliminated 10 terrorists in various encounters throughout Wednesday in the northern Strip. Several terrorists were killed during activities in central Gaza.

Finally, during an intelligence collection activity in the north of the Gaza Strip, forces of the 414th Combat Intelligence Unit of the Gaza Division identified and eliminated a terrorist cell that was trying to transfer technological systems to Hamas.

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