update deskIsrael at War

Netanyahu after Gaza pullout: We will destroy Hamas, including in Rafah

The prime minister spoke after the IDF left southern Gaza.

  • Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
    Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
  • Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, April 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, April 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, April 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, April 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip, April 4, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip, April 4, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli forces operating in the area of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on March 31, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli forces operating in the area of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on March 31, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip, March 23, 2024. Credit: IDF.

Israel is determined to complete its mission to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, including in the southernmost city of Rafah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, hours after the military announced the withdrawal of most IDF units from the southern part of the Strip.

“Citizens of Israel, there is no war more just than this one, and we are determined to achieve total victory,” said Netanyahu in an address to the nation marking six months since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks.

“I have made it clear to the international community: There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. It simply will not happen,” vowed the premier.

“Our war is ongoing,” he stated. “In the past 24 hours, four of our heroic soldiers have fallen in Khan Yunis. Our forces rescued the remains of Elad Katzir, who was murdered by Hamas. One of our UAVs was downed in Lebanon and our forces responded deep in Lebanon.”

The Israel Defense Forces announced earlier on Sunday it had withdrawn almost all ground troops stationed in southern Gaza, with only one brigade left in the northern and central Strip. The news came after months of fighting in the former Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis.

According to IDF sources, the 98th Division has completed its mission in Khan Yunis. The division left Gaza to recuperate and prepare for future operations. A significant force led by the 162nd Division and its Nahal Brigade continues to operate in the Strip, preserving the IDF’s freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations, the army said.

“We will reach a situation where Hamas does not control the Gaza Strip and where it does not function as a military framework that poses a risk to the citizens of the State of Israel,” he adds.

In a phone call on Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden demanded that Netanyahu improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, stressing that “an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians.”

Biden also urged Netanyahu “to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home,” the White House said.

Hamas is still holding 133 hostages out of 253 kidnapped during its Oct. 7 invasion of the northwestern Negev. Some 1,200 people, primarily Israeli civilians, were killed during the attack and thousands more were wounded. Israel forces killed approximately 1,000 terrorists.

The Israeli premier emphasized on Sunday that “it is not Israel that is preventing a deal. Hamas is preventing a deal.”

The terror group’s “extreme demands are designed to bring about a ceasefire and leave it intact, to ensure its survival, existence and ability to endanger our citizens and soldiers,” said Netanyahu. He said that “surrendering to Hamas’s demands would allow it to try and repeat the crimes of October 7 again and again, as it has promised to do.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized that telling Israel to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas in Gaza after 176 days are believed to be held in the southernmost city. Two captives were rescued from Rafah by special forces in a daring military operation last month.

While Israel is planning a large-scale invasion of Rafah to destroy the last Hamas battalions there, the White House favors a limited operation aimed at high-value targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

On Sunday night, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops at the IDF’s Southern Command that the decision to withdraw from Khan Younis was made in preparation for the expected offensive in Rafah.

“The forces came out [of the Gaza Strip] and are preparing for their future missions, we saw examples of such missions in action at Shifa, and also for their future mission in the Rafah area,” Gallant stated.

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