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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of surgery for a hernia on Sunday, vowed that Israel would invade Rafah, despite twin pressures from Ramadan and Washington.  

Netanyahu, 74, said he had approved the IDF’s “operational plan” for Rafah, saying the force was “prepared for the evacuation of the civilian population and for the provision of humanitarian assistance.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

FILE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2023.  (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

“This is the right thing both operationally and internationally,” he said. “This will take time but it will be done. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there for one simple reason: There is no victory without entering Rafah and there is no victory without eliminating the Hamas battalions there.” 

The comments came after the Israeli leader met with the families of the hostages still in Gaza. He rejected accusations that he was delaying their release. 

“Those who say I am not doing everything to return the hostages are wrong and misleading, and those who know the truth and still repeating this lie are causing unnecessary grief to the families of the hostages,” he said.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SILENT OVER HAMAS’ USE OF GAZA HOSPITAL AS TERROR HQ

Netanyahu alleged that Israel has “relaxed” its position in negotiations while Hamas has “hardened” theirs. 

“Despite all the difficulty involved, negotiations must be conducted calmly and with level-headed determination,” he said. “This is the only way to return hostages.” 

Netanyahu has kept a full schedule throughout Israel’s nearly six-month-long war against Hamas. A hernia was discovered during a routine checkup, but his doctors have said he is otherwise in good health. Doctors acknowledged last year that he had concealed a long-known heart problem after they implanted a pacemaker.

Palestinians look at destruction

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike at a residential building in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Jan. 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israeli society was broadly united immediately after Oct. 7, when Hamas killed some 1,200 people during a cross-border attack and took 250 others hostage. Nearly six months of conflict have renewed divisions over the leadership of Netanyahu, though the country remains largely in favor of the war.

Thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday, marking the largest anti-government demonstration since the war began. They urged the government to reach a cease-fire deal to free dozens of hostages held by the Hamas militant group in Gaza and to hold early elections.

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Roughly half the hostages in Gaza were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. But attempts by international mediators to bring home the remaining hostages have failed. Talks resumed on Sunday with little expectation of a breakthrough.

Netanyahu

FILE – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

Netanyahu has said there can be no victory without a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere. 

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said Sunday that more than  32,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilians and fighters, but it has said that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

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Israel has disputed these figures, saying that more than one-third of the dead are militants, and it blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the group operates in residential areas.

Fox News’ Yael Rotem-Kuriel and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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