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Entering Rafah: War on Hamas reaches critical point

The southernmost city in the Gaza Strip is the last Hamas stronghold and could be the key to ending the fighting.

A building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
A building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The murderous Oct. 7 terrorist attacks were executed with ruthless precision, designed to maximize casualties, kidnap civilians, including children, and instill fear in the Israeli population. In response to this horrifying act of terrorism, the Israeli Defense Forces launched “Operation Swords of Iron” to rescue the Israeli hostages and destroy the Hamas military infrastructure. The city of Rafah is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza and could be the key to ending the war.

There are 134 hostages still in captivity in Gaza, including “a baby stolen from his crib. Seeing this young mother, clutching her babies, surrounded by a group of armed terrorists, is horrifying and heart-wrenching, but it is also a call for action, that we must bring the hostages home. Fast,” explained an IDF spokesman.

Since Oct. 7, 112 hostages have been released in exchange for more than 100 Palestinian terrorist prisoners, and 11 dead bodies have been recovered. Israeli forces at a Gaza hospital recently discovered unopened medications that were designated by name for delivery to hostages, a violation of an agreement between Israel and Qatar. There is evidence that hostages were held in that hospital. The IDF captured hundreds of Hamas terrorists hiding inside, including terrorists disguised as doctors.

Pregnant Michal Lobanov, 28, will be giving birth to a child while her husband Alexander is still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. They have a 2-year-old son, Tom, who is constantly asking, “Dad? Dad? Dad?” Michal spoke to the UK’s Daily Mail about her pregnancy: “It is not human to feel sad when you’re pregnant. It’s a very horrible thing to say, but that’s my life now. It’s a very sad pregnancy, very sad. But I love this kid, and I want him, and Alex wants him, so it doesn’t matter if it’s sad or not. I still need him to come back and pick a name.”

Michal Lobanov
“Come back, Dad” is written on the pregnant belly of 28-year-old Michal Lobanov. Her 32-year-old husband, Alexander Lobanov, has been held in captivity by Hamas terrorists since Oct. 7, 2023. They have a 2-year-old son, Tom. Source: X/Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Rafah: ‘The last bastion of Hamas’

The remaining 134 hostages—alive and dead—are believed to be in Rafah. It is the fourth-largest and southernmost city in Gaza. The city straddles the border between Gaza and Egypt, and the border crossing is controlled by Egypt and Hamas. Israel’s prime minister describes the Gazan city as “the last bastion of Hamas control which Israel must dismantle to achieve its goals in this war. Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us: ‘Lose the war.’ ”

The IDF has targeted and degraded Hamas terrorist infrastructure and capabilities, including rocket launch sites, weapons-storage facilities, and control-and-command centers. These efforts have weakened the ability of Hamas to carry out attacks against Israel and have helped to protect Israeli civilians. However, Hamas remains a threat and continues to pose a significant security challenge to the Jewish state.

Israel’s defense minister notes that “there were 24 regional Hamas battalions in Gaza; we have dismantled 18 of them.” Israel will continue to target Hamas and minimize civilian casualties. Hamas has always made life miserable in Gaza—diverting critical resources and humanitarian aid away from its citizens.

“The End of the Jews” Book
An anti-Jewish book, “The End of the Jews,” was found in the Gaza Strip. Credit: Israel’s Government Press Office/GPO.

The ideology of Hamas and Palestinian incitement is a persistent threat. Israeli President Isaac Herzog recently shared with world leaders an anti-Jewish book written by a Hamas co-founder and former Palestinian Authority foreign minister. The End of the Jews “does not recognize the fact that there are Jews, hails the Holocaust and calls for nations to follow what the Nazis have done.”

The war with Hamas is only one battlefront Israel faces. Iran backs Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Hezbollah is escalating attacks on Israel’s northern towns and threatening imminent escalation. The Houthis continue to wreak havoc on commercial cargo ships in the Red Sea. Israelis are in the fifth month of a tragic war for their survival. Now is a critical crossroad amid mounting international pressure.

Unrealistic ceasefire terms

Israel has inflicted severe damage to the capabilities of Hamas in Gaza. The significant impact on the terrorist group’s ability to attack Israelis could have forced Hamas to reassess its strategy, but the Iran-backed group remains undeterred.

Israel faces unrelenting international demands for a ceasefire, including a call by U.S. President Joe Biden for a six-week pause, but these demands are largely one-sided and rarely mention the refusals of Hamas leaders to release hostages and disarm. The significant impact to the terrorist group’s ability to attack Israelis could have forced Hamas to reassess its strategy, but the Iran-backed group remains undeterred. The United States used its veto on Feb. 20 to block a binding U.N. Security Council resolution for an immediate end to the war without the release of hostages by Hamas.

Hamas leaders are demanding to remain in power, for Israel to completely withdraw from Gaza and for Israel to release hundreds of convicted terrorists, including cold-blooded murderers. Israel released 1,027 Palestinian terrorists—280 sentenced to life terms—in 2011 in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas seized Shalit in a cross-border raid via a terrorist tunnel in 2006. One of the released terrorists serving a life sentence was Yahya Sinwar, the current Hamas leader in Gaza.

The Hamas wish list of convicted terrorist masterminds includes those responsible for the Oct. 7 massacre; the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in 2002 by a suicide bomber during a seder, killing 30 and injuring 140; the 2002 Hebrew University bombing that killed nine, including five Americans; 2003 Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing that killed 16 and wounded 130; and the assassination of Israel’s tourism minister in 2001. Israel’s prime minister called the Hamas demands “delusional.”

Bibas Family
Shiri Bibas and her sons Ariel, 4, and baby Kfir, were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, 2023.

Points to consider:

  1. Israelis are determined to bring the hostages home.

In the face of adversity, the resilience and determination of the Israeli people in bringing their hostages home is nothing short of extraordinary. The commitment to rescuing their fellow citizens is deeply ingrained in Israeli culture, although sometimes this conflicts with the government’s goal of attacking Hamas terrorists. Israelis have time and again demonstrated their willingness to go to great lengths to secure the release of their loved ones. This unwavering commitment to their fellow citizens underscores the deep sense of community, solidarity and courage that exists within Israeli society.

  1. Israel takes care to minimize Gaza casualties.

The IDF is being recognized for taking “extraordinary measures” to achieve its objectives while ensuring the safety of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire. Israel goes to great lengths to provide advance warnings to Palestinians, including phone calls, text messages and dropping thousands of leaflets, before military operations in civilian areas. Israel also is allowing tons of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza to assist civilians affected by the conflict. Hamas diverts much of the supplies intended for its civilians to its own fighters. In desperation to maintain its grip on power and continue its reign of terror, Hamas deliberately places Palestinian civilians in harm’s way and launches attacks from civilian neighborhoods.

  1. Hamas makes outrageous demands, blocking a ceasefire.

The Hamas refusal to cease hostilities and meet any of Israel’s terms demonstrates the terror group’s commitment to its extremist ideology and its desire to prolong this deadly conflict. Negotiations have broken down multiple times because of Hamas ultimatums, including Israel’s withdrawal. If Israelis accepted these terms, Hamas would simply rearm itself for its next attack on the Jewish state. Israel—or any country—should not tolerate threats to its very existence and must take decisive action to protect its citizens and ensure their safety. Hamas must recognize that its actions have consequences and that Israel will not back down in the face of terror.

  1. Hamas is part of Iran’s nucleus of terror.

Iran has openly declared its support for Hamas and its goal of destroying the Jewish state. The Islamic Republic has provided significant financial and material support to Hamas, enabling terrorists to launch numerous attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, rocket attacks and kidnappings. These terrorist attacks have caused immense suffering and loss of life among Israelis, including innocent women and children. Iran openly coordinates with its terrorist proxies that directly attack Israel, which also causes regional instability and violence. This makes Hamas a significant threat to Israel’s security and the safety of its people.

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