Israel War Day-136: Israel Sets Deadline for Gaza Offensive Amid Hostage Standoff; Ramadan Ultimatum
Israel War Day-136: Israel Sets Deadline for Gaza Offensive Amid Hostage Standoff;  Ramadan Ultimatum

Israeli officials have announced a looming offensive on the Gazan city of Rafah, with a deadline set for the start of Ramadan next month if Hamas fails to release remaining hostages. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet and former military chief of staff, issued the ultimatum at a conference in Jerusalem, stating that if hostages aren't freed by the onset of Ramadan, the offensive will commence, extending to Rafah.

Ramadan, the sacred month in Islam, is slated to begin on March 10.

This declaration marks the first time Israel has explicitly set a timeline for its intended assault on Rafah, where a significant portion of the 1.7 million displaced Palestinians have sought sanctuary. Concerns over potential civilian casualties have prompted international appeals for Israel to spare Rafah, the only major Gazan city yet to face ground invasion during the ongoing conflict.

Despite diplomatic pressures, including direct appeals from US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast in his assertion that victory over Hamas necessitates action in Rafah, hostage deal or not.

Gantz emphasized that any offensive would be executed in coordination with international partners to ensure minimal civilian harm and facilitate evacuation efforts. However, safe relocation options within the besieged Gaza Strip remain uncertain.

These developments follow unsuccessful ceasefire negotiations in recent weeks, with Qatar, a key mediator, acknowledging diminishing prospects for a resolution.

Israel, backed by its ally the United States, has advocated for a six-week truce contingent on the release of approximately 130 hostages, with an estimated 30 presumed deceased. Israeli authorities believe many hostages, along with Hamas leadership, are situated in Rafah.

The conflict erupted following attacks on October 7, resulting in significant casualties on both sides. Israel reports over 1,160 deaths, while Gaza's health ministry, run by Hamas, estimates at least 28,858 deaths, predominantly comprising women and children.

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